Millions seized from suitcase stash

Last updated 17:31 23/01/2014
Seized money
Australian Federal Police

SEIZED MONEY: Over $6m worth of Australian cash found in suitcases in a Sydney apartment.

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Police have found A$5.7 million (NZ$6.3m) in cash in a south Sydney apartment in what has been described as one of Australia's largest cash seizures.

A 58-year-old US citizen is in police custody in Australia after police found seven suitcases in the Mascot unit he was staying at, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus said.

He made the announcement today after briefing the media about a special taskforce launched by the Australian Crime Commission, codenamed Eligo, which last year seized more than A$580m (NZ$640m) worth of drugs and assets associated with money laundering.

"This is one of Australia's largest cash seizures," Negus said.

The man arrived in Australia via Costa Rica two days before his arrest and denies owning the money.

He was charged with one count of dealing with property worth over A$100,000, reasonably expected to be the proceeds of crime.

The maximum penalty is three years in jail, but he could face up to 25 years if police charge him with money laundering.

Negus, who was standing next to the seized suitcases and wads of cash at Sydney's AFP headquarters, said the money was likely destined to leave Australia.

The cash will now be used by commonwealth authorities to fight crime.

ACC acting chief Paul Jevtovic said criminal groups were increasingly turning to new methods to launder their money and to send cash overseas, such as using money transfer services.

The anti-laundering taskforce over the last year disrupted 18 local and international criminal syndicates, arrested 105 people, laid 190 charges and identified 128 ''high risk targets'' previously unknown to authorities.

"(They) are now firmly in our sights and we will continue to pursue them and we will continue to expose them," Jevtovic said.

While not going into specifics, Jevtovic earlier said there was ''no doubt'' that criminal bikie groups operating in Australia and overseas were involved, along with people smugglers, terrorist organisations and drug cartels.

He said there was a ''very complex'' global network of more than 20 countries involved in the movement of money in and out of Australia.

Jevtovic wouldn't be drawn into which countries were involved, but said the Middle East and Southeast Asia had ''featured prominently''.

Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan described the A$580m (NZ$640m) seizure as ''astonishing'' and ''extraordinary''.

''Seizing more than A$550m worth of drugs and cash is a significant blow to the criminal economy,'' Keenan said.

''This outcome shows the collective strength of law enforcement in this country ... and what can be achieved through innovative strategies such as targeting what motivates organised criminals - money,'' he said.

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- AAP

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