A “significant” number of Qantas employees may be connected to organised crime groups using the national carrier to smuggle drugs into the country, according to allegations by Australia’s top criminal intelligence authority.
The allegations were revealed by a joint investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes, indicating the airline has been infiltrated by bikies and “other organised crime groups”.
Alongside the drug smuggling allegations, the investigation also uncovered intelligence that a handful of Qantas staff also had links to Islamic extremist groups and child exploitation.
Anonymous official sources told the Nine outlets that the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission was running an operation code-named Project Brunello which has uncovered up to 150 Qantas employees are linked to criminal activity, including “trusted insiders”.
The sources, who said they had been briefed on the project’s findings, said the suspected criminal infiltration is “serious and represents a very high threat to the Australian border”.
One of the most concerning of those suspected of infiltrating the national carrier, according to the courses, is an affiliate of the Comanchero bikie gang with links to international drug cartel boss, Hakan Ayik.
The commission believes the suspect is a “trusted” insider holding a mid-level management position at the airline’s Sydney airport operations and has hired criminals to help smuggle narcotics.
The project had also uncovered intelligence that Damien Flower, an ex-Qantas baggage handler who pleaded guilty to importing $68.5 million worth of cocaine, was now suspected of importing $1 billion worth of cocaine using the airline and a corrupt baggage handler.
Seven other staff members have allegedly been linked to child exploitation, with one employee charged with manufacturing child pornography outside of Australia and a small network of sex offenders believed to be operating within Brisbane international airport.
It was also suggested five Qantas staff may have links to national security threats involving Islamic extremism, but it is believed there was no immediate risk.
Luke Bramah, Qantas’ group chief security officer, said the airline was not advised of any investigations into employees involved in organised crime.
“Given we follow all of the government’s vetting procedures, we find these claims disturbing,” Bramah said.
“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.”
Bramah said the airline would actively support investigations if concerns were raised and take appropriate action.
Qantas has written to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AFP, Border Force and Aviation and Maritime Security seeking details of the report.
“Qantas is the only commercial airline that holds a Trusted Trader accreditation with Australian Border Force which means every single employee connected to international air freight must pass a fit and proper test,” Bramah said.
“We’ve not been advised by Border Force of any of our employees failing this test.
“While Australia does have world-leading aviation security, of course more can be done to help reduce the risk of people working in the industry trying to take advantage of their position to commit crimes such as drug smuggling.
“There are multiple checks and balances in place already that we know work, but we have been strong supporters of introducing intelligence checks for all ASIC holders. We’re pleased that the federal government is working to get this through Parliament.”
Bramah said the airline has been in talks with the government for a number of years about the possibility of real-time background checks that would let airlines and airports know immediately if an employee has been convicted of an offence
Qantas said it had worked closely in the past with law enforcement to assist with surveillance and evidence gathering at airports around the country over the past decade, leading to the conviction of people engaged in illegal activities.
Featured image source: iStock/ai_yoshi