The Trojan horse app used by cops to infiltrate some of the world’s most dangerous criminal gangs has led to police identifying more than 5000 members of the notorious Italian mafia, who are all living in Australia to conduct their illegal business.
The Australian Federal Police is investigating 51 Italian organised crime clans, including 14 from the infamous ‘Ndrangheta mafia, a year after their secret app AN0M helped them launch one of the biggest and most significant crackdowns on organised crime in history.
The AFP now has an extensive file on mafia members living Down Under after last year’s Operation Ironside, which was largely built on data taken from the encrypted app AN0M.
NSW is home to highest number of Italian crime clans with three found in Sydney and 14 allegedly conducting their business in regional NSW.
There are 14 in Victoria, nine in South Australia, five in the ACT, four in Western Australia and two in Queensland.
The clans operate nationwide and work closely with a wide range of organised crime groups including outlaw bikies, Middle Eastern gangs, Asian triads and South American cartels.
Police are now working with Colombian, US and Italian law enforcement authorities in a desperate bid to disrupt Italian organised crimes’ global networks.
Up to 5000 members of the Italian mafia are operating across Australia, according to Australian Federal Police
The AFP has an extensive file on mafia members living Down Under as part of Operation Ironside (pictured, one of the raid during the operation)
‘Our picture of the clans is continuing to grow, but intelligence suggests their overall membership could potentially be similar to that of patched members in Australian outlaw motorcycle gangs. That shows how subterranean and significant the ‘Ndrangheta are in Australia,’ AFP Assistant Commissioner crime command Nigel Ryan said in a statement.
Our intelligence, new powers under the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Act 2021, our world-leading capabilities and our international networks are beginning to remove the cloak of secrecy that has allowed members of the ‘Ndrangeta to operate in Australia with impunity for too many years.’
Mr Ryan told reporters on Tuesday many alleged members had managed to stay under the radar by living modest lives in modest homes and allegedly invested their illegitimate wealth into construction, agricultural and catering businesses.
The ‘Ndrangheta mafia from Calabria in southern Italy is a particular focus for the AFP, which has been assessing the familial relationships, through blood and marriage, of the clan in Australia with the help of Italian authorities.
‘The ‘Ndrangheta are not just an Australian problem – they are a global problem and they are responsible for trafficking 70 per cent of the world’s cocaine. In Australia, they are also responsible for cannabis and methamphetamine trafficking,’ Mr Ryan said.
‘During Operation Ironside, law enforcement charged a number of ‘Ndrangheta members, some who were taking their orders from bosses in Calabria.
‘The ‘Ndrangheta are flooding Australia with illicit drugs and are pulling the strings of Australian outlaw motorcycle gangs, who are behind some of the most significant violence in our communities.
‘They have become so powerful in Australia that they almost own some OMCG’s, who will move drugs around for their ‘Ndrangheta financiers, or carry out acts of violence on behalf of the ‘Ndrangheta.’
Wednesday marks the first anniversary of Operation Ironside, Australia’s biggest ever organised crime bust, which led to hundreds of arrests through AN0M, a Trojan horse app the underworld was tricked into using.
More than 300 AN0M handsets were uncovered in Italy during last year’s raids with a number of them provided by Australians.
Data obtained from AN0M has given police an unprecedented insight into the mafia clans and how they operate.
Of the more than 1000 arrests worldwide, 383 were in Australia and ranged from alleged mafia bosses, senior bikies to airport workers and other insiders.
They were charged with 2340 offences in Australia while more than 6.3 tonnes of illicit drugs, 147 weapons and firearms and $55 million in cash were seized.
Of the arrests, 42 offenders charged under Operation Ironside have already pleaded guilty or have been sentenced.
Of four arrests in recent weeks, three were allegedly linked to the ‘Ndrangheta and were accused of being involved in a plot to import 1.2 tonnes of cocaine from Ecuador.
AFP are investigating members of the Italian mafia allegedly responsible for smuggling tonnes of illicit drugs into Australia
Police have put the Italian organised crime clans and other international groups on notice
The AFP recently hosted law enforcement authorities from Italy, Colombia and the US to work together in identifying members of the ‘Ndrangheta and take action against them.
Other international crime groups have also been put on notice.
‘If you are a member of a cartel operating out of Mexico, a member of a triad operating out of Asia or a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang in Australia, and you are impacting on Australians because of your illegal activity, then you will be targeted by the AFP,’ Mr Ryan warned.
‘Multi-millions of dollars a day are being laundered in Australia on behalf of illicit drug syndicates. Money laundering poses a significant threat to Australia’s national security as it subverts, exploits, and distorts legitimate markets and economic activity.’
The Assistant Commissioner later told reporters: ‘If we don’t cut off the head and tail of organised crime, we face living in a very different Australia.’
He admitted dismantling the ‘Ndrangheta in Australia will be a long and challenging task due to years of living under the radar.
‘They have been able to stay under the radar by living modest lives, in modest homes. They mix their illegitimate money with money from their legitimate construction, agricultural or catering businesses and all of this makes it more difficult to not only identify criminality but to prove it,’ Mr Ryan said.
‘It’s become very apparent, through what we’ve seen on the platform Anom through Operation Ironside, that the Italians have been able to fly under the radar for many, many years.
‘The Italians have established themselves since the early 1920s in Australia and the way that they’ve operated over the years has actually changed and they’ve been able to, in many ways, legitimise their business and their ill-gotten gains. So this is really a warning to Italian organised crime that they’re on our radar.’
The AFP has seized $55 million in cash from crime groups as part of Operation Ironside
He believed the Italian crime clans have been operating in Australia for a century and are in regional areas such as Griffith in southern NSW.
‘We’ve seen the familial blood lines and marriage into blood lines has been prolific over that time. We see the same names coming up all the time in relation to this country,’ Assistant Commissioner Ryan said.
Certainly the Italians have established themselves in regional areas. Griffith has been one. Originally a lot of Italians established themselves in agricultural types of businesses and that has actually been quite a sort in terms of hiding some of their illegitimate wealth.
‘I think what we’re actually doing here is they’ve been able to operate in darkness for so long that we’re shining a light on it.’
WHAT IS ENCRYPTED APP AN0M
What is AN0M?
On its glitzy website, the ‘AN0M’ phone looks like any new tech innovation with sleek black lines, ‘invite only’ exclusivity and a pledge to ‘enforce your right to privacy’.
But its best feature – and for most of its users, the worst – wasn’t promoted in its marketing material.
The phone, which supposedly allowed encrypted communications safe from the eyes of the law, was actually a cunning trap laid for a who’s who of organised crime.
The Australian Federal Police last year revealed a breathtaking three-year tech ploy which led to 4,000 police executing 525 search warrants.
Senior bikies and mafia figures were tricked into buying hi-tech phones that would supposedly let them messages one another, free of police snooping.
But the AN0M phones were actually designed by the FBI and allowed Australian police to read the texts of organised crime figures.
Police watched in real time as alleged crooks spilled their secrets to one another on their own app.
Some 21 execution plots were foiled and drug and gun smuggling networks dismantled.
Last year, some 224 people were arrested, $44,934,457 in cash seized, as well as 104 weapons, 3.7 tonnes of drugs and multi-million dollar assets.
Alleged crooks even paid six-monthly subscription fees to the police – the money only further reinforcing law enforcement methods.
AN0N is the Trojan horse app used by cops to infiltrate some of the world’s most dangerous criminal gangs
How did it all work?
Users could buy phone handsets costing between $1,500 and $2,500 from what has been described as underground distributors.
The phones were stripped down – they couldn’t even make calls, access the internet or send emails.
What did do was send encrypted messages, photos and videos, using a foreign SIM card to apparently avoid Australian data snooping laws.
The app was accessed by entering a PIN number into the phone’s calculator, the stuff of spy dramas.
The company was apparently based in famously neutral Switzerland and boasted of ‘military grade encrypt and sanitisation’.
For its encryption, it claimed to use ‘OMEMO Double Ratchet Algorithm … independently audited by Dutch security research group Radically Open Security’.
That may have been an in-joke – as all the supposedly self-destructing messages sent on the app were completely open to the Australian Federal Police to read.