– Up to two dozen illegal handguns – including some bought by Sydney crime gangs – passed through Port Botany after customs officers falsified paperwork to wrongly claim they had X-rayed the container in which the weapons were hidden.
A six-month Fairfax Media investigation – conducted in association with the ABC’s “7:30 Report” – can also reveal that customs is investigating about 100 criminal allegations involving its staff – the highest number in the agency’s history – and has received more than 1300 allegations of misconduct since 2008.
It has also emerged that acting Customs Service CEO Michael Pezzullo was frozen out of parts of the federal police’s probe into corruption at Sydney Airport because his brother, a customs officer, works and associates with several members of the allegedly corrupt customs airport cell.
In other revelations, which come after Thursday’s expose of an allegedly corrupt cell of customs officers at Sydney Airport:
– Dozens of pages of sensitive customs documents were leaked to a crime syndicate controlled by drug and illegal tobacco smuggler Mohamad Jomaa, who ran a syndicate that boasted of having several contacts inside customs.
– A joint police taskforce has identified up to 12 suspected corrupt customs officials working on NSW’s maritime border security, adding to the cell of 15 allegedly corrupt officers at Sydney Airport, including some still working there.
– Employees of Menzies Aviation Services with federal government security clearances are being investigated over their links to alleged drug trafficking within customs. Menzies provides baggage handling services at the airport.
The smuggled handguns were identified by a police operation code-named Otford, which discovered that the guns were smuggled in engine parts that a small number of customs officers falsely claimed they had scanned. Further investigations found that the officers falsified paperwork to give the engine parts the all-clear.
While the customs officers were caught lying about their failure to scan the container, there is no evidence they knew it contained guns.
It is unclear if any of the smuggled guns, which included four semi-automatic pistols recovered by police, were used in any of Sydney’s spate of gangland killings.
Customs has dealt with the case as a matter of misconduct and incompetence and said in a statement that the officers involved had been subject to code of conduct provisions and in October received remedial training and workplace counselling.
However, senior NSW police are believed to have been furious about customs’ role in the affair, especially after it followed a string of so-called misdetections by customs staff of drug shipments.
Regarding the ongoing airport probe, there is no suggestion that Mr Pezzullo’s brother is involved in corruption. (Fairfax made several attempts to contact Mr Pezzullo’s brother but was not successful.)
One of the aspects of the probe is whether customs staff not involved in corruption nevertheless knew that some of their colleagues may have had inappropriate associations or may have been engaged in questionable behaviour in or outside of work hours. At least four customs officers still working at Sydney Airport attended the court case of an allegedly drug-using officer without informing their bosses.
Asked about his brother’s relationship with suspected corrupt customs officials, Mr Pelluzzo said: “I was advised by the previous CEO that I was to be excluded from all briefings and information related to allegations concerning possible corrupt activities at Sydney Airport on the basis that I had a family member who worked at the airport.”
Of the suspected corrupt customs officers on the waterfront identified by the joint agency Polaris Taskforce, several are suspected to be involved in facilitating illegal tobacco or drug importations.
A confidential Polaris report from this year states that the Customs Examination Facility at Port Botany has been infiltrated by criminals.
One of the customs officials suspected to be aiding maritime drug and tobacco importations was allowed access to highly sensitive information despite having two brothers known to NSW Police as drug traffickers.
This officer was also one of at least two customs staff with strong ties to a criminal syndicate led by convicted drug trafficker Mohamad Jomaa, as well as to two alleged tobacco smugglers who are currently before court and are facing charges of bribing a third customs official.
Asked about the suspected corrupt customs officer with links to Mohamad Jomaa, Mr Pezzullo told Fairfax that he chose to resign while customs…..was making an assessment of his suitability to continue to hold a security clearance.
Dirk Scott, the general manager of Menzies Aviation, said on Thursday that he had heard nothing from federal police or the federal government about any of his staff having suspected links to allegedly corrupt customs officers or crime figures.
Allegations of corrupt baggage handlers emerged in 2004 after supports of Schapelle Corby alleged that airport staff had put drugs in her boogie board bag. Federal police later discredited these claims – Nick McKenzie & Richard Baker