Customs officers charged over alleged tobacco smuggling ring linked to crime family

| 10.08,17. 12:16 PM |

Customs officers charged over alleged tobacco smuggling ring linked to crime family

Photo: Police arrested eight people in Sydney for their alleged involvement in a conspiracy to import drugs and tobacco into Australia. (Supplied: NSW Police)

Two members of a cell of allegedly corrupt Customs officers have been charged as part of a series of raids targeting organised crime figures in Australian and Dubai this week.

Customs official Craig Richard Eakin and former Customs employee Johayna Merhi were charged this week with corruption offences over an alleged tobacco smuggling ring.

Documents obtained by the ABC suggest Eakin and Merhi are allegedly the latest in a line of Sydney-based Customs officers suspected of passing information to members of the Jomaa family and its associates for years, which police allege allowed the smuggling of cigarettes and drugs into Australia.

Eakin has been charged with illegally importing tobacco, receiving a bribe, abusing public office to gain advantage, accessing data with intent to commit an offence, dealing with the proceeds of crime and committing an offence at the direction of an organisation.

The arrests raise questions about how the influence of the family was allegedly allowed to permeate Customs for so many years, despite warnings from law enforcement agencies.

History behind alleged plot

In November 2010, the then chief executive of Customs and Border Protection, Michael Carmody, wrote to the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Tony Negus, saying that a Customs officer, who the ABC has called C1, had been identified as having close ties to the Jomaa family and others allegedly involved in narcotics trafficking.

Other law enforcement documents seen by the ABC allege that two of C1's brothers "are extensively involved in the distribution of [amphetamines], heroin, gang activity, street crime, illegal weapons and drug usage".

The Customs officer was also found to have several mobile phones registered in names including "James Packer", "Wayne Gardiner" and "John Ram" dating back to 2003. The corresponding phone numbers were detected in the call records of a number of people alleged to be involved in drug and tobacco smuggling, including a member of the Jomaa family.

When questioned, C1 claimed that the phone in the name of "James Packer" had been given to him by ASIO.

The officer was suspended while an investigation was launched. Soon afterwards, according to the letter from Mr Carmody to Mr Negus, the NSW police Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad passed on information "indicating that the Jomaa family had lost one of its informants within Customs and Border Protection. The information suggested that there were two Customs and Border Protection officers and the 'younger one' was caught."

C1 resigned during the investigation in early 2011 and was never charged.

Ties with alleged crime families

The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the Government was determined to weed out corruption.

"I want to apologise to all of the Australian Border Force officers for the alleged conduct of this one officer this besmirches five and half thousand officers who do a great job," he said.

The letter also identifies two female Customs officials, C2 and C3, with "strong connections to illegal tobacco importers or family relationships of significant concern with alleged crime families".

It says C2 passed sensitive information to the Jomaa family, while C3 had "numerous links" to the family.

The second female officer is also related to Hakan Arif, an associate of the Jomaa family who was arrested in Dubai this week — along with two brothers of John Ibrahim — over an alleged conspiracy to import a massive amount of drugs into Australia.

Arif has been associated at various times with the Rebels and Comanchero outlaw motorcycle gangs, and the so-called Facebook gangster, fugitive drug trafficker Hakan Ayik. Travel records reveal that Hakan Arif had travelled overseas with a member of the Jomaa family involved in cocaine trafficking.

It is understood that both C2 and C3 also left Customs and were never charged.

The report to Mr Negus also identified a fourth officer, C4, "suspected of being involved in the supply of sensitive information to criminal syndicates".

"The AFP indicated that [this officer] had asked questions and sought information from the AFP that in hindsight raises suspicions."

By 2014, the Jomaa family's original Customs insiders had left or been pushed out, but as this week's charges suggest, their influence may have persisted.

Merhi, the former Customs officer charged this week with corruption offences, is Facebook friends with C1, the officer who resigned while being investigated over his links to the family.

The AFP have also launched an application to freeze Eakin's assets under proceeds of crime legislation in the NSW Supreme Court.

He did not apply for bail and it was formally refused. He will reappear in court on October 10.


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