REPORT: Qantas infiltrated by organised crime networks that pose a national security threat

(IMAGE: Shutterstock) in Australia say flag carrier Qantas has been infiltrated by employees with links to organised crime networks that could be used to import illegal drugs and that also pose a risk to national security, according to multiple media reports. A classified federal law enforcement intelligence operation code-named Project Brunello has determined that a “significant” number of Qantas staff – up to 150 – are linked to criminality. The operation describes suspected wrongdoing that is “serious and represents a very high threat to the Australian border”, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Other reports cited Australian official sources who said among the most concerning of the suspected “trusted insiders” within Qantas is a Comanchero motorcycle gang affiliate who is linked to international drug cartel boss Hakan Ayik. This person is working in a mid-level managerial position at Qantas’ Sydney airport operations and the intelligence suggests he has recruited criminals into the airline to help import narcotics, reports said.

The revelations raise serious questions for both the airline and the federal government and come after historical inquiries have warned of evolving gaps in port and airport security.

Qantas Group chief security officer Luke Bramah said in a statement on the Qantas website that “given we follow all of the government’s vetting procedures, we find these claims disturbing. We have not been advised of any current investigations of Qantas Group employees involved in organised crime. If concerns are raised regarding any of our employees, we will actively support their investigation and take appropriate action.”

He said Qantas was 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. 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.

“In addition to the criminal checks that happen every two years, we’d like to see real-time background checks,” Bramahadded, “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.”

Project Brunello found in its July 2020 report that “trusted insiders” at Australia’s biggest airline have links to organised crime and were able to “cause significant harm” to the Australian community by facilitating smuggling across borders. The official sources briefed on the report said the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission inquiry had found some Qantas staff were creating “vulnerabilities in the security of supply chains and critical infrastructure” that risked eroding the public’s faith in border security and in the reputation of the airline.

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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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