SYDNEY- Australian police revealed Thursday they had cracked a major global money-laundering ring with operatives in more than 20 countries and funds syphoned off to groups reported to include Hezbollah.
The Australian Crime Commission said more than Aus$580 million (US$512 million) of drugs and assets had been seized, including Aus$26 million in cash, in a year-long sting codenamed Eligo targeting the offshore laundering of funds generated by outlaw motorcycle gangs, people-smugglers and others.
According to the ACC, the operation had disrupted 18 serious and organised crime groups and singled out 128 individuals of interest in more than 20 countries, tapping information from agencies including the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
The full details of which countries had been involved were not revealed but acting ACC chief Paul Jevtovic said "the reality is that the Middle East and Southeast Asia have featured prominently".
"Drug importations into Australia continue to be the main profit source by organised crime here in this country, but there is a range of other things, serious organised investment frauds, identity theft," Jevtovic said.
Eligo saw 105 people arrested on 190 separate charges and resulted in the closure of three major clandestine methamphetamine labs and Australia's largest-ever urban hydroponic cannabis hothouse in Sydney last November.
It was described as "one of the most successful money-laundering investigations in Australian law enforcement history" by the ACC.
"The task force focused on high-threat money-laundering activities and, as a result, revealed a range of different crime types which has led to these extraordinary outcomes," said Australia's Justice Minister Michael Keenan.
"Seizing more than $550 million worth of drugs and cash is a significant blow to the criminal economy," he added.
Legitimate international cash wiring services were a major focus of the operation, with the government's anti-laundering agency AUSTRAC saying they had been identified as at "high risk of being exploited by serious and organised crime groups".