Nearly all of those accused of involvement in a $10 billion money laundering operation smashed by the Australian Federal Police this week have swapped their Sydney mansions for remand cells after appearing in court on Thursday.
In its largest-ever asset seizure, AFP officers took possession of at least $150 million worth of property and luxury assets and arrested nine suspects during 13 raids across Sydney on Wednesday, cutting off a shopping spree that included 360 hectares of land purchased for a new suburb near Sydney’s new international airport, worth $47 million.
Federal police arrest a man in Sydney as they dismantle a money laundering syndicate.Credit:AFP
On Thursday, AFP Assistant Commissioner Kirsty Schofield said restraining orders had been obtained on 20 Sydney properties, including two eastern suburbs homes with a combined value of $19 million. Luxury cars, handbags, jewellery and watches – some of which “cost more than what an individual would earn in a lifetime” – were also seized. She said the large land purchase near the airport “was for profit”.
The group is alleged to have acted “like an underground bank” with branches all over the world, Schofield said, “enabling it to illegally shift money for individuals and organised crime groups”.
Vaucluse resident Stephen Xin, the local business partner of fallen global casino industry tycoon, Alvin Chau, is accused of being the ringleader of the operation. He was arrested on Wednesday along with his wife Yi Ming Wang, Bellevue Hill man Zhaohua Ma and six others.
Xin and Ma, along with Epping man Jin Yang and Youming Chen from Mays Hill, near Parramatta, were charged with conspiring to deal with more than $120 million intended to become an instrument of crime.
Xin was also charged with conspiring to deal with $7 million in proceeds of general crime, along with his wife, accountant Raymond Luo, Chen Zhang from Crows Nest, and Ruizhen Wang from Burwood, who was issued a court attendance notice for later this month.
Of those taken into custody on Wednesday, only one, lawyer and migration agent Chang Hong Liu, applied for bail on Thursday. Liu was charged with aiding and abetting and perverting the course of justice for his role in the alleged operation.
Liu represented himself with assistance from a Legal Aid solicitor at Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday, appearing via video from Surry Hills police centre, wearing handcuffs and a blue suit.
Jewellery was among the luxury items federal police seized.Credit:AFP
He told the court he had a number of urgent migration matters to deal with, including clients who were in detention waiting to appeal cancelled visas, and “not aware I’m in trouble”.
Magistrate Brett Shields told Liu he might not be able to practice while on bail for the offences, which he described as “very serious”. Liu told the court he worked with “more than 50 other people” and would transfer his clients’ matters if necessary. He also said his hours of work were from 6am to 8pm and asked for extended hours for his daily bail reporting and a reduced curfew.
Although prosecutors did not oppose bail for Liu, who offered $100,000 cash as surety, Shields said he was inclined to ask for a “significantly greater” figure. Liu said he could come up with $300,000.
Liu’s role in the alleged scheme, and that of chartered accountant Luo, is expected to increase pressure on the federal government to introduce long-stalled Tranche 2 laws, which would force accountants, real estate agents and lawyers to face the same obligations as bankers and casinos to report suspected money laundering.
Schofield said investigators had been working on the case for a number of years and would not rule out further arrests in Australia or overseas as more evidence comes to light.
Money laundering groups in Australia should take note, she said: “You are on our radar”.
As for ordinary Australians who have money held offshore, she had this advice: “Only use registered and lawful remitters to move [your] money. Failing to do so may lead to very serious charges.”
All co-accused are due back in court on March 29.
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