An international law enforcement operation against organised criminal activity has resulted in mass arrests among mafia bosses, bikies, and reality tv stars.
More than 100 organised crime members have been arrested in Australia as part of the operation, initiated after the United States’ FBI decrypted ‘AN0M’, an online communications platform used by gang figures.
The alleged criminals were tricked into distributing messages to their criminal associates around the world via the encrypted messaging app, unaware it was being run by special agents.
Through the covert operation, detectives uncovered 21 murder plots, gun distribution and mass drug trafficking, federal police say.
Australian Federal Police said it had seized 3.7 tonnes of drugs, 104 weapons and almost $45 million in cash as part of the operation – which was three years in the making.
Offenders are linked to the Australian-based Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicates and Albanian organised crime figures.
Ninja Warrior 2017 contestant Sopiea Kong was among those arrested. The 33-year-old was charged last week following a raid at a Kangaroo Point home, where police allegedly seized 154g of meth
Former Bachelorette star Samuel Minkin, who appeared on Becky and Elly Miles’ season of the dating show, was charged with possessing a large commercial quantity of cannabis after police stopped a van in Byron Bay last month
Police have charged 224 alleged offenders with 525 charges, shut down six clandestine laboratories and acted on 21 threats to kill, including saving a family of five. Pictured: weapons seized by detectives
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the AFP operation, known as Operation Ironside, had struck a ‘heavy blow’ against criminals.
‘The operation puts Australia at the forefront of the fight against criminals who peddle in human misery and ultimately, it will keep our communities and Australians safe,’ he told reporters on Tuesday.
‘Illicit drug use ruins lives and fuels organised crime.’
The bust exposed new details about how one of Australia’s most wanted fugitives gave police extensive access to the world’s criminal underworld.
Ninja Warrior 2017 contestant Sopiea Kong was among those arrested. The 33-year-old was charged last week following a raid at a Kangaroo Point home, where police allegedly seized 154g of meth.
Kong, who was also allegedly in possession of $2,030 cash and a revolver, was granted bail and will appear in court on June 28.
Former Bachelorette star Samuel Minkin, who appeared on Becky and Elly Miles’ season of the dating show, was charged with possessing a large commercial quantity of cannabis after police stopped a van in Byron Bay last month.
Former Bandito bikie Benjamin Joseph Thornton, 31, was arrested after police seized two mobile phones and a small quantity of cocaine. He was denied bail and will reappear in court next week.
Drug kingpin and Comancheros bikie associate Hakan Ayik has spent the last decade on the run from Australian authorities after fleeing the country in 2010.
Hakan Ayik (pictured) gave police extensive access to the world’s criminal underworld through encrypted communications app AN0M
Hakan Ayik (pictured) was tricked into distributing messages to criminal associates
Now living in Turkey, he was tricked into distributing messages to his criminal associates around the world via encrypted communications app AN0M, unaware it was being run by FBI special agents.
Three years ago, Australia Federal Police identified Ayik as a key influencer to successfully distribute the encrypted AN0M devices due to his high status in the criminal underworld.
They sat back and secretly intercepted millions of messages sent as unsuspecting associates openly stated their plans including plots to kill, importing drugs and identifying those who could help them with their criminal enterprises.
Senior investigators describe Ayik as the ‘principal distributor of the AN0M handset.’ who didn’t just distribute the devices among associates but also profited from the sales.
‘It’s like having The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) sponsoring your gym. This is a high-value criminal sponsoring a criminal communications system,’ Australian Federal Police Superintendent Jared Taggart told the publication.
‘It’s just pure revenue, it’s a bit like selling Amway for him. His good name goes behind it, he gets some … fees, there’s a cut from the selling of the handsets.’
Senior investigators said ‘100 per cent’ of telephone conversations intercepted on the devices were all business and in relation to criminal activity.
‘He’s (Ayik) essentially leveraged his position of trust in the underworld to push this platform and that’s what generated its success. His associates would readily take his word for it,’ an AFP investigator added.
Mafia figures, bikies, South American drug cartels, Asian triads and Middle Eastern and European crime syndicates are among those alleged to be caught up in the sting operated by the FBI and monitored by AFP.
Operation Ironside foiled 21 murder plots and seized more than three tonnes of drugs, $35.8 million in cash, 72 firearms and 1650 devices with the encrypted app.
Hakan Ayik has spent the last decade living a lavish lifestyle in Turkey. He’s pictured with wife Fleur Messelink on their wedding day
Hakan Ayik (pictured) has been on the run from Australian authorities since 2010
Then known as Joseph Hakan Ayik, the Sydney bikie associate and gym junkie fled Australia in 2010 to avoid arrest over a $230 million heroin importation.
Ayik, subbed one of the world’s most prolific drug-smuggling masterminds, was later detained in Cyprus but then escaped and fled to Turkey, where he has created a new life.
He invested his proceeds of crime in hotel and resort developments while living a lavish lifestyle that extended to flashy cars and private yachts.
His Dutch wife, hair transplant business owner Fleur Messelink publicly flaunted the couple’s elaborate lifestyle on Instagram until this week.
Ayik is wanted in several countries, including Australia, where he is listed as one of NSW’s most wanted criminals.
An Interpol red notice has also been for Ayik’s arrest, who remains on the run from authorities.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said the alleged syndicate included ‘some of the most dangerous criminals to Australia’.
‘We allege they are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian Mafia, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organised crime groups,’ he told reporters on Tuesday.
‘We allege they’ve been trafficking illicit drugs into Australia at an industrial scale.
‘Sadly, criminal gangs are targeting Australia because it is one of the most profitable countries in the world to sell drugs, and for three years, this operation has been overt.’
Mr Kershaw said detectives have arrested the alleged ‘King makers’ behind the alleged crimes, prevented mass shootings in suburbs and ‘frustrated serious and organised crime by seizing their ill-gotten wealth’.
Police have charged 224 alleged offenders with 525 charges, shut down six clandestine laboratories and acted on 21 threats to kill, including saving a family of five.
Operation Ironside foiled 21 murder plots and seized more than three tonnes of drugs, $35.8 million in cash, 72 firearms and 1650 devices with the encrypted app
‘And these figures are likely to increase over the coming days. Collectively, these alleged offenders are facing jail terms that could run into hundreds of years and some of the charges they are facing carry life imprisonment,’ he said.
The app AN0M was installed on mobile phones that were stripped of other capability. The mobile phones, which were bought on the black market, could not make calls or send emails.
It could only send messages to another device that had the organised crime app. Criminals needed to know a criminal to get a device.
The devices organically circulated and grew in popularity among criminals, who were confident of the legitimacy of the app because high-profile organised crime figures vouched for its integrity.
‘These criminal influencers put the AFP in the back pocket of hundreds of alleged offenders,’ Mr Kershaw said.
‘Essentially, they have handcuffed each other by endorsing and trusting AN0M and openly communicating on it – not knowing we were watching the entire time.’
Mr Kershaw said detectives witnessed associates ‘turning on each other’ and doing business behind each other’s backs.
‘There’s no doubt going to be some tension within the whole system about who owes what drug debt and so on. So that was pretty brazen to see that they were actually disloyal to their own groups,’ he said.
More arrests are expected domestically and offshore under a coordinated global response connected to Operation Ironside.
The AFP is also likely to seek extradition requests of a number of persons of interest living overseas. It comes as there have been tonnes of drugs and hundreds of arrests overseas.