A secret messaging app used by police to infiltrate criminal gangs has revealed thousands of Italian mafia members are operating in Australia.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is investigating 51 Italian organised crime clans across the country, including 14 from the infamous ‘Ndrangheta, taking their orders from bosses in Calabria in southern Italy.
Police believe up to 5,000 mafia members are operating in Australia, with AFP assistant commissioner Nigel Ryan telling a news conference on Tuesday “their overall membership could potentially be similar to that of patched members in Australian outlaw motorcycle gangs”.
The crime network is responsible for trafficking 70% of the world’s cocaine, according to the AFP. In Australia, that extends to cannabis and methamphetamine.
“The ‘Ndrangheta are flooding Australia with illicit drugs and are pulling the strings of Australian outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCG), who are behind some of the most significant violence in our communities,” said Mr Ryan.
“They have become so powerful in Australia that they almost own some OMCGs, who will move drugs around for their ‘Ndrangheta financiers, or carry out acts of violence on behalf of the ‘Ndrangheta.”
He said the AFP will target the Italian organised crime and money-laundering syndicates washing billions of dollars a year through the Australian economy.
“They have been able to stay under the radar by living modest lives, in modest homes,” he said.
“They mix their illegitimate money with money from their legitimate construction, agricultural or catering businesses and all of this makes it more difficult to not only identify criminality but to prove it.”
But he said the intelligence obtained through an encrypted app called ANoM had given an invaluable insight into the scale of illicit drug imports facilitated by the ‘Ndrangheta, the profits they are making and how often they work with outlaw motorcycle groups.
The AFP has been mapping and assessing the familial relationships, through blood or marriage of the ‘Ndrangheta in Australia, in collaboration with Italian authorities.
“Our intelligence, new powers under the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Act 2021, our world-leading capabilities and our international networks are beginning to remove the cloak of secrecy that has allowed members of the ‘Ndrangeta to operate in Australia with impunity for too many years,” said Mr Ryan.
Last year, a joint operation between Australia and the FBI, which began in 2018, led to arrests in Asia, South America and the Middle East of more than 200 people suspected of being involved in organised crime using the ANoM device.
Among those arrested under Operation Ironside were suspects with links to Australian-based Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicates and Albanian organised crime.
Since authorities revealed the success of the initiative a year ago, 383 alleged offenders have been charged with 2,340 offences and more than 6.3 tonnes of illicit drugs, 147 weapons/firearms and $55m seized.