‘Seizing precursor chemicals has been a focus for the AFP.’FEDERAL police have seized more than 1.5 times the amount of drug precursor chemicals and double the value of criminal assets this year than in the previous 12 months, following a successful change in strategy.
The Australian Federal Police released the figures exclusively to The Sunday Age to mark the third anniversary of its new approach to solving serious and organised crime.
Kevin Zuccato, the AFP’s head of serious and organised crime, said the results were directly attributable to increased sharing of information between the AFP and government departments in Australia, as well as overseas agencies.
”Many of our great investigations have had an international flavour,” Mr Zuccato said.
The latest strategy for detecting and breaking major crime syndicates reflects one already working in the AFP’s counterterrorism, people smuggling and high-tech crime areas.
While drug busts have increased in Australia, a number of major breakthroughs have been made in other countries with the help of the AFP, including:
■In Thailand earlier this year an AFP chemist and bomb data technician helped local police uncover 450 kilograms of ammonium nitrate and improvised explosive devices across two separate investigations.
■AFP intelligence gathered in Cambodia led to 4100 litres of safrole oil being seized in September last year and seven Vietnamese and Cambodian nationals being charged. The oil could have made 25.7 million ecstasy tablets and at least some of these were expected to be sent to Australia.
■Late last year in Burma AFP officers in Rangoon helped local police seize 576 kilograms of pseudoephedrine and 4.5 kilograms of ephedrine.
The AFP has more than 90 officers overseas, a number that has remained stable in recent years, although the number of foreign police the AFP has trained is increasing.
As part of the overseas operations, the AFP gives foreign police scooters, computers and boats and sets them up in offices and helps train them.
”We’re not talking about big dollars,” Mr Zuccato said.
”We do this work offshore to make sure Australia doesn’t have to pay for a prosecution and pay for incarceration [of criminals].
”If they don’t have the capability to be effective, then we’re going to wear the outcome of them being weak and vulnerable.
”Our job is like the whack-a-mole game.
”When the criminals come up for air, we’re sitting there with the mallet, whether that’s here, on the open ocean or another country.”
Last financial year, the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce seized $97.4 million of assets, an increase of more than $55 million on the previous year.
The AFP seized almost 14 tonnes of drugs and drug ingredients in 2011-12. This was a 164 per cent – or 8.6-tonne – increase on the 5.2 tonnes seized the previous financial year. It is more than 11 times the 1.2 tonnes seized in the 2009-10 financial year.
Locating and seizing precursor chemicals that are used to make drugs has been a focus of the AFP’s work, Mr Zuccato said.
Almost 12 tonnes of these ingredients were seized in the last financial year, a year-on-year increase of 263 per cent.
At the same time, 542 kilograms of amphetamine-type drugs were uncovered, a 34 per cent increase on the previous financial year.
And 832 kilograms of cocaine was seized in 2011-12, 36 kilograms more than in the previous 12 months.
Colin Campbell, a spokesman for the Australian Institute of Criminology, said that while methamphetamine use had increased sharply since 2009, fewer people were taking ecstasy.
Twenty-one per cent of detainees were using methamphetamines in 2011, compared with 13 per cent in 2009, according to AIC research.
Proceeds of crime restrained since January this year:
■ 45 bank accounts$19.2 million■ 57 sums of cash$10.7 million■ 3 jewellery items$1.2 million■ 16 vehicles$4.7 million■ 35 properties$53.3 million■ 2 vessels$2.4 million■ Total value$91.5 million
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