New AFP-led Taskforce Vanguard makes a significant impact on high volume crime

The new Australian Federal Police-led High Volume Crime Taskforce Vanguard has made a significant impact on the community, with the arrest of 30 people for drug and money laundering offences, and the seizure of millions of dollars in cash and hundreds of kilograms of illicit drugs and tobacco.  

The AFP-led Taskforce Vanguard was fully established on 1 July 2021, with about 30 investigators operating across four teams in NSW targeting drug crimes and money laundering activities.

It was purpose-built to combat the increasing trend of organised crime syndicates adapting their methods of importing illicit drugs into Australia since the COVID-19 pandemic, and turning to a high volume of lightweight packages through air cargo and parcel post systems.

Australian Border Force detects and seizes hundreds of small-scale drug importations in international mail and air cargo shipments each week. This year alone, ABF has seized more than 11 tonnes of drugs entering Australia through air cargo and parcel post systems, with NSW processing approximately 85% of Australia’s incoming mail.

Since its inception, the taskforce has resulted in more than 50 search warrants, 30 arrests, the seizure of more than $3.5 million in cash and seizure of hundreds of kilograms of illicit drugs, including methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.

Investigations have involved the seizure of illicit drugs hidden in a range of items, including handbags, whey protein, exhaust pipes, a baby rocking chair, water filtration units and mailing tubes said to contain blueprints.

Investigators have identified links in a number of investigations between organised crime groups importing illicit drugs and subsequent money laundering activities to move the proceeds of the drug activities offshore.

Taskforce investigations have seen money alleged to be the proceeds of crime being moved to Dubai, Vietnam and China, with links to Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMCG) allegedly identified during one operation. AFP officers have not ruled out links to OMCGs in other investigations.

The AFP-led Taskforce Vanguard brings together innovative officers with a keen ability to think outside the box to develop investigative strategies that bring police to the forefront of tackling the ever changing global criminal environment.

The dedicated investigators who make up the taskforce are developing new methods of evidence-gathering and targeting people of interest and criminal organisations. This has been possible through a network of strong agency partnerships.

The AFP has brought the skills and resources of Australian Border Force and AUSTRAC members into the taskforce, complemented by strong collaboration and intelligence sharing with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Taxation Office, Department of Home Affairs, and US Homeland Security Investigations.

Taskforce Vanguard officers operate closely with their offshore law enforcement counterparts to share intelligence and help investigate the activities of transnational serious organised crime syndicates, through the AFP International Network and its Liaison Officers based in posts around the world.

Behind this taskforce is a global effort with support and intelligence shared by the AFP’s international partners, connected through the AFP’s International Network. Agencies are supporting this taskforce by sharing intelligence, capabilities and resources.

The Taskforce is enabling a number of AFP projects, including Operation AVARUS, the AFP’s national strategy to combat Money Laundering and actioning intelligence derived through Operation Ironside.

AFP Detective Superintendent Craig Bellis said illicit drug importations and the movement of money go hand in hand, and the taskforce is going after both.

“The AFP-led Taskforce Vanguard has been purpose built to actively target organised crime networks that are exploiting mail systems, and to actively pursue money laundering organisations that are enabling this crime,” Det. Supt. Bellis said.

“The AFP and its partners have implemented a number of innovative techniques to make us faster, smarter and more agile than ever.”

“This taskforce is out there every day keeping Australians safe; we’re searching houses and cars, arresting people, tearing down labs, seizing drugs and bleeding the profits of these crimes.”

ABF Superintendent Regional Investigations NSW, Brett Totten said working with law enforcement partners to target organised crime is a priority for the ABF.

“Every week the ABF seizes hundreds of mail items containing illicit drugs. If not detected these importations would go on to destroy lives and tear apart families,” Supt. Totten said.

“This multi-agency task force has been stood up to target the criminals attempting to make money by harming our communities. We will continue to work with our partner agencies to bring those involved before the courts.”

AUSTRAC National Manager Intelligence Operations, Mr Michael Tink said, ‘Taskforce Vanguard’s role in targeting money laundering organisations is helping to take the profit out of crime.”

“AUSTRAC financial intelligence utilises multiple sources of information, including its traditional reporting mechanisms and partnerships with industry. Being able to leverage the Fintel Alliance public-private partnership is integral to AUSTRAC’s identification of emerging and complex financial crime activities warranting investigation.”

HSI Attaché to Australia, Adam Parks said “Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is pleased to partner with Taskforce Vanguard toward our common mission to disrupt transnational organized crime.” 

“HSI will support the taskforce here in Australia and through HSI’s Border Enforcement Security Taskforces (BESTs) located in 65 cities in the U.S. Together, we will deny transnational crime syndicates a safe environment from which to operate on both sides of the Pacific.”