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Australian police charge 7 with laundering hundreds of millions for crime syndicate

MELBOURNE (AP) – Australian authorities have charged seven people with helping launder hundreds of millions of dollars for a Chinese crime syndicate.

Police said yesterday the arrests came after a 14-month investigation that involved multiple Australian agencies and the United States Department of Homeland Security.

They said it was the most complex money laundering investigation in the nation’s history.

Police said a money remittance chain in Australia with a dozen outlets, the Changjiang Currency Exchange, was being secretly run by the Long River money laundering syndicate.

They said the chain legitimately transferred billions of dollars from regular customers, but hidden among those transactions were illegal transfers of AUD229 million in crime proceeds over the past three years.

A sign for a Changjiang Currency Exchange is displayed in Melbourne, Australia. PHOTO: AP

They said they became suspicious about the company during COVID-19 lockdowns in Sydney.

“While most of Sydney was a ghost town, alarm bells went off among our money laundering investigators when they noticed Changjiang Currency Exchange opened and updated new and existing shopfronts in the heart of Sydney,” said Australian Federal assistant commissioner Police Stephen Dametto

“It was just a gut feeling – it didn’t feel right,” Dametto said in a statement. “Many international students and tourists had returned home, and there was no apparent business case for Changjiang Currency Exchange to expand.”

More than 300 officers on Wednesday conducted 20 raids around the country and seized tens of millions of dollars worth of luxury homes and vehicles.

The four Chinese nationals and three Australian citizens made their first appearance in a Melbourne court yesterday.

“We allege they lived the high life by eating at Australia’s most extravagant restaurants, drinking wine and sake valued in the tens of thousands of dollars, travelling on private jets, driving vehicles purchased for AUD400,000 and living in expensive homes, with one valued at more than AUD10 million,” Dametto said.