– The federal government has admitted the culture of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service needs a major overhaul, following allegations that some if its officers have been involved in drug trafficking, money laundering and organised crime.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said Thursday that a new board had been appointed to root out corruption in the customs service, including Justice James Wood, who oversaw a royal commission that exposed corruption in the New South Wales police force.
But he said details on how the structure and culture of the customs service would be reformed would not be announced until next year.
A six-month joint investigation between Fairfax Media and the ABC’s “7:30 Report” has revealed that at least 15 officials in Sydney Airport border security posts are suspected of involvement in serious misconduct or corruption. The number may be as high as 20.
Their alleged conduct ranges from criminal association and leaking information to drug trafficking, drug manufacturing, money laundering and bribery.
The Australian Federal Police announced on Thursday that eight people had been arrested over suspected airport drug trading, including a customs officer and a quarantine inspector. They are believed to be members of a syndicate exploiting major gaps in airport and customs security at Sydney Airport.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus said it would be alleged that couriers were sent overseas to collect drugs before returning through customs with the help of people in trusted positions.
“Certainly, what has been alleged before the courts so far is that the customs officers involved in this would meet drug couriers off the plane,” he said.
“They would then walk them through the primary line of customs and then out into the waiting hall, so they would facilitate their entry through the normal checks and the normal law-enforcement processes that everyone goes through when they enter this country.
“It will be alleged that they (the customs officers) certainly played a role in organising the couriers themselves to go overseas, and to actually facilitate their collection of the narcotics oversea, and then again played a key role in bringing them back through the airport without any detection or any scrutiny from the normal process.”
Mr Clare said three distinguished Australians had been appointed to the new Customs Reform Board, which would report directly to him. They are Justice Wood, former NSW police commissioner Ken Moroney, and David Mortimer, the former CEO of TNT Limited, former deputy chairman of Ansett and former chairman Australia Post and Leighton Holdings.
Major reforms had already been introduced to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service this year as a result of the AFP investigation, including covert operations to test the integrity of customs officers, and drug and alcohol testing, Mr Clare said.
Customs and Border Protection Service acting chief Michael Pelluzzo said he was disappointed but not surprised by the corruption revelations.
He said nobody had been stood down from their jobs – Megan Levy and Harriet Alexander