A ‘significant’ number of Qantas employees are allegedly connected to organised crime groups and may be using the national carrier to smuggle drugs and contraband into the country.
The allegations were revealed by a joint investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes.
The reports were based on an operation codenamed Project Brunello which linked up to 150 Qantas employees to criminal activity, including ‘trusted insiders’.
Those briefed on the matter cannot speak publicly about related details, but The Sydney Morning Herald cited one source describing the matter as “serious” and representing “a very high threat to the Australian border”.
The commission suspects a ‘trusted’ insider who holds a mid-level management position at the airline’s Sydney airport operations and may have hired criminals to help smuggle narcotics.
Damien Flower, an ex-Qantas baggage handler who pleaded guilty to importing $68.5 million worth of cocaine, is also now suspected of importing $1 billion worth of cocaine using the airline and a corrupt baggage handler.
Calls for ‘urgent review’
Federal Labor opposition politicians Kristina Keneally and Catherine King called for an “urgent review” of security at Australia’s airports following the report.
“The untold story of COVID-19 is that organised crime syndicates have not only adapted but thrived in the COVID-era, all while the Morrison Government has been asleep at the wheel on airport security,” a statement from Ms Keneally and Ms King said.
Read more: Qantas turns 100
Luke Bramah, Qantas’ group chief security officer, said the airline was not advised nor aware of any investigations into employees involved in organised crime.
“Given we follow all of the government’s vetting procedures, we find these claims disturbing,” says Mr Bramah.
“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.”
Mr Bramah said the airline would actively support investigations 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,” Mr 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.
Read more: Qantas putting passengers at risk?
“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.”
Mr 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 had 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.
What do you think of these allegations? Slow news day at Nine news or biggest breakthrough all year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.