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Qantas infiltrated by criminal gangs, intelligence report claims

Aviation Updates Philippines – Australian crime agencies believe that the country's flag carrier Qantas has been infiltrated by criminal gangs and is being used to facilitate various illegal activities, including drug importation and child exploitation.

Photo by Aero Icarus on Wikimedia Commons

A classified intelligence operation codenamed "Project Brunello" found that as many as 150 Qantas employees had ties to criminal organizations and were able to "cause significant harm" to the Australian community.

Among the so-called "trusted insiders" include a mid-level manager working out of Sydney Airport who used his position to recruit criminals into the airline and help import narcotics into Australia. The man is believed to be an associate of the Comanchero motorcycle gang and is linked to international drug cartel boss Hakan Ayik, one of Australia's most wanted criminals.

Other individuals identified in the July 2020 Project Brunello report include a Northern Territory-based contractor with ties to the Hells Angels motorcycle gang and a Perth-based freight contractor who repeatedly used his status as a trusted insider to deliver large amounts of drugs.

The Brunello report also revealed that former Qantas baggage handler-turned-wealthy racehorse owner Damion Flower, who pleaded guilty to importing $68.5 million worth of cocaine in May of 2020, had actually brought in $1 billion worth of cocaine via Qantas with the help of a corrupt baggage handler who has since been imprisoned.

The Brunello report identified Qantas' air freight, ground crew, and baggage handling divisions as those that were at the highest risk of infiltration by criminal gangs.

Of the 150 employees identified by Project Brunello, nearly 60 were linked to "serious drug offenses" or "organized crime groups." 23 were found to have "used employment in the aviation environment to facilitate various criminal activities." 

Seven others were linked to child exploitation, one of whom had been charged last year with possessing and manufacturing child pornography. The Brunello report also warned of a possible network of sex offenders operating out of Brisbane Airport.

Five Qantas employees are also believed to have links to "national security" criminality including Islamic extremism but do not pose any immediate risks.

In a statement, Qantas Group chief security officer Luke Bramah called these claims "disturbing."

"To be clear, none of Australia's law enforcement agencies have told us of the existence of a report that suggests there are potentially 150 Qantas employees who have connections to organised crime. Nor have they raised concerns with us about our vetting or background checking processes," said Bramah.

He continued: "If concerns are raised regarding any of our employees, we will actively support their investigation and take appropriate action."

Bramah also pointed out that Qantas is the only commercial airline that holds a Trusted Trader accreditation issued by the Australian Border Force, which means every single employee connected to international air freight is required to pass a "fit and proper test."

"We've not been advised by Border Force of any of our employees failing this test," said Bramah.

Meanwhile, a separate report by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) revealed that several crime bosses in Australia, including Hakan Ayik, had joined forces to form the Aussie Cartel, earning an estimated $1.5 billion annually by smuggling drugs into Australia.

At least some of these drugs are flown into the country via Qantas, as several of the cartel's Comanchero members have established ties with a few of the trusted insiders who were identified in the Brunello report.

"They share supply routes, they share logistic supply chains. They share among themselves the doors or the way into Australia," said Michael Phelan, the commission's chief executive. "They share any corrupt networks they may have here to swap information to each other."

Phelan did not confirm whether Qantas had been infiltrated by criminal gangs, but said the ACIC is "working closely with Qantas" and that several private companies were also vulnerable.

Politicians Kristina Keneally and Catherine King of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the country's opposition party, released a joint statement on Sunday calling for an "urgent review" of security at Australia's airports, describing the allegations as "deeply disturbing."

"The untold story of COVID-19 is that organised crime syndicates have not only adapted but thrived in the COVID-era, all while the Morrison Government has been asleep at the wheel on airport security," the statement read.

At present, the Australian government has yet to decide on whether it would allow criminal intelligence, in addition to criminal convictions, to be used when assessing candidates applying for roles at airports and maritime sites.

Members of the ALP have warned that the proposed measure could hurt some workers as they may be unfairly targeted based on allegations alone. Intelligence groups, however, said that such fears are unfounded as the rules would be used infrequently, and using only verified information. Job applicants will also have the ability to appeal decisions.

Bramah, meanwhile, said Qantas is a "strong supporter" of introducing intelligence checks for all Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC) holders.

"In addition to the criminal checks that happen every two years, we'd like to see real-time background checks which means airlines and airports know immediately if an employee has been convicted of an offence, because it's another safeguard. We have had positive conversations with the government about this over a number of years," he said.

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