Up to 30 Customs officers have been accused of receiving bribes to turn a blind eye to the import of drugs and illegal precursor chemicals through Sydney International Airport.
The allegations are believed to follow several months of surveillance by the Australian Federal Police after officers were tipped off about the racket. The Federal Police last night refused to comment on the investigation, but confirmed a press conference would be held today.
A Sydney Airport insider told Channel 10 that about 30 officers from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service were underl investigation. Sources said Lebanese crime gangs are believed to have infiltrated Customs at the airport.
The officers are alleged to have ignored the illegal importation of cocaine and pseudoephedrine, used to make methamphetamine.
It was also alleged the officers may have been entire shifts of staff who were receiving kickbacks for their roles in the importation ring.
A Customs and Border Protection officer from Sydney International Airport yesterday faced Central Local Court charged with importing a commercial quantity of pseudoephedrine and receiving a bribe aimed at encouraging him to “circumvent Customs protocol”. He has also been charged with abusing his office to gain a financial advantage, after allegedly receiving a bribe between August 10 and August 18.
Paul John Katralis, 25, of Menai, was arrested by the Australian Federal Police on August 20, two days after the man accused of paying him the bribe was arrested at Sydney Airport as he got off an international flight.
In October, Joseph Harb, 28, of Ashfield, pleaded guilty to bribing a Commonwealth official. He also entered a guilty plea to charges of supplying the banned drug MDMA and importing the precursor drug pseudoephedrine.
A third co-accused, Isabel Martin, 20, of Swansea, was also charged over the alleged drug importation.
An Australian Federal Police spokeswoman last night confirmed an investigation was under way, but said the agency could not provide any information until today.
Customs and Border Protection also refused to discuss details of the allegations, with a spokeswoman saying: “Obviously we’re aware of the allegations, but at this stage we’re not commenting on it.”
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare was unavailable for comment last night but is expected to take part in today’s press conference.