Australia, Money Laundering

Two southern Sydney men have been charged with dozens of offences under money laundering laws for allegedly transferring at least $2.3 million offshore after nine victims across Australia were defrauded of the money. NSW Police arrested the men, Mark Estephan and Jamie Ronald Close, on Tuesday following a fraud investigation launched earlier this year, which soon uncovered the alleged large-scale international money-laundering operation. With assistance from financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC, investigators discovered a series of unauthorised remittance transfers to accounts in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. According to police, victims were lured by a person who has yet to be identified and convinced to put their money into a number of investment opportunities that promised low risk and high return.

“Part of their ploy was to reward these customers with small returns and then of course they were convinced to invest larger amounts,” Sutherland Police Area Command Crime Manager, Detective Inspector Andrea Panozzo, alleged. “And we tracked the funds into [accounts controlled by the accused men] and we noticed they were being transferred offshore to Asian, Middle Eastern and European countries.”

Mr Estephan, 40, was arrested outside Sutherland police station on Tuesday afternoon and charged with 41 unauthorised remittance offences under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act, dealing with proceeds of crime and possessing goods suspected of being stolen. Police will allege Mr Estephan used accounts under his Sydney-based company A.C.E Global Consulting, which bills itself online as an “AWARD WINNING FIRM that offers a wide range of consulting services Specialising in Business Consulting and Investment Banking”.

Jamie Ronald Close, 49, was arrested at his Kirrawee home and charged with 18 offences under the anti-money laundering laws, driving a vehicle while his licence was suspended, two counts of possessing goods suspected of being stolen, and two counts of dealing with proceeds of crime greater than $100,000. Search warrants executed in Kirrawee and Cronulla uncovered $170,000 in cash, 64kg of silver bullion worth an estimated $55,000 and two ounces of gold bullion worth an estimated $5000. The men had not registered their operations with AUSTRAC as remittance businesses and were therefore not authorised to make the transfers.

“This is a large-scale coordinated criminal enterprise we have successfully disrupted,” Detective Inspector Panozzo alleged.

Nine victims across NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia have been identified so far but more could be found as the investigation continues. One family was allegedly defrauded out of $1 million while others lost smaller amounts.

AUSTRAC national manager of education, capability and communications, Brad Brown, said international remittance transfers were generally legitimate but businesses facilitating the transfers had to be registered. He said people involved in all kinds of criminal activity, including fraud, might seek to illegally transfer proceeds of crime overseas. “The further you distance yourself from the illicit proceeds that you have, the harder it is for law enforcement to track those funds across the world,” Mr Brown said. In 2019-20, $72 billion was transferred into and out of Australia using registered money transfer services, amounting to 21.7 million transactions reported to AUSTRAC.

Mr Estephan and Mr Close were refused bail to appear at Sutherland Local Court on Wednesday