On Wednesday, Australian police announced the arrest of 28 people in an operation against one of the most powerful criminal networks in the country's history, the members of which are of Lebanese origin, according to the Australian Associated Press (AAP). Police say they have dismantled, if not eliminated, what they consider to be "Australia's largest criminal network or enterprise," after carrying out 43 raids.
According to the Australian daily The Sydney Morning Herald, two Lebanese brothers from Sydney, Nidal and Bilal Haouchar, aged 40 and 37 respectively, occupy command positions within the network.
The newspaper reported that Nidal Haouchar was arrested in Sydney, during a raid that began on Sunday, along with his compatriots Rabih Mawas and Ammar Chahal. Meanwhile, Bilal Haouchar, who was last seen in Australia boarding a business class flight to Beirut in September 2018, "was arrested by Lebanese authorities in Lebanon earlier in the week." The (Australian) police believe Bilal is currently in police custody in Lebanon. A security source confirmed Thursday evening to L'Orient-Le Jour Bilal’s arrest in Lebanon.
A year-long investigation
This raid in Australia comes "at the end of a year-long investigation jointly carried out by the New South Wales (NGS) Police, the NSW Crime Commission and the Australian Border Force, which targeted the activities of the cartel of Lebanese origin,” stated AAP.
The gang is believed to be linked to AU$1.5 billion (US$973.4 million) in cryptocurrency transactions. Bilal Haouchar is also believed to be linked to various offenses related to firearms, drugs, tobacco and money laundering, authorities told the Australian News Agency.
Police seized two tonnes of illicit drugs, alongside 60 encrypted devices with a street value of more than A$130 million (US$84 million) as well as 25 firearms, nearly 3.5 million dollars (2.2 million US dollars) in cash and cryptocurrency, luxury watches worth 3 million dollars (1.9 million US dollars) and a Lamborghini, detailed Reuters on Thursday.
Police said Wednesday that 24 people were arrested and charged in Sydney alone after 37 raids across the city.
The investigation in New South Wales involved more than 450 police officers, the state's deputy police commissioner, David Hudson, said in a statement. Hudson said the gang was “Australia’s largest criminal network or enterprise.” "We will show that much of the criminal activity was conducted and orchestrated overseas."
The operation began on Sunday
According to the commander of the organized crime brigade, Peter Faux, also quoted by AAP, investigations reveal the cartel was allegedly involved in large-scale drug trafficking and supply, distribution of firearms and violent crimes. He said the gang was responsible for an “industrial-scale movement” of currencies around the world via cryptocurrency.
Police said the local operation began around midday last Sunday "when strike force detectives apprehended and arrested a 40-year-old man at Sydney International Airport," according to AAP.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.