The cartel of Australian Mr Bigs responsible for $1.5b drug imports

Australia’s most dangerous and wanted crime bosses have organised themselves into a cartel earning an estimated $1.5 billion a year by smuggling drugs past the nation’s borders with the help of corrupt government officials and border insiders, the nation's peak criminal intelligence agency believes.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission says nine men, drawn mostly from Australian bikie gangs and Middle Eastern crime syndicates, make up what the agency has named the “Aussie Cartel”. The nine have been confidentially designated by the intelligence agency as Australian priority organisation targets after an assessment that they pose the gravest organised crime risk to the nation.

Some members of the Aussie Cartel: Hakan Ayik (centre), Mark Buddle (left) and Angelo Pandeli.

“They share supply routes, they share logistic supply chains. They share among themselves the doors or the way into Australia. They share any corrupt networks they may have here to swap information to each other,” Mr Phelan said.

When asked if the cartel was corrupting government institutions, Mr Phelan said it was “extremely naive” to think it had not penetrated Australian law enforcement agencies.

Some official sources have confirmed that two members of the cartel in particular are believed to have government insiders in Australia and overseas in their networks. Mr Phelan confirmed federal law enforcement operations had been compromised by suspected leaks, but declined to provide specific details.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission estimates the cartel’s annual net profit to be $1 billion, with revenues of $1.5 billion.

Mr Phelan also said the introduction to Australia of several encrypted phone platforms, including Ciphr, that were being used by thousands of Australians to engage in crime “certainly leads back to elements of the Aussie cartel”. Policing sources said the Australian distribution of an encrypted phone platform called Anon was also cartel linked.

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission chief Mike Phelan.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The revelations – which extend to confidential law enforcement assessments that Australia’s premier airline Qantas has been infiltrated by criminals – thrust the issue of organised crime back into the spotlight.

Agencies are pushing politicians to support stalled port and airport security identity card legislation to prevent “trusted insiders” exploiting border security gaps. The laws are backed by the Coalition, but Labor claims they are flawed.

Agencies are also seeking new laws giving authorities greater access to “dark web” and encrypted communications platforms being used exclusively for crime.

Mr Phelan declined to identify the members of the cartel. But state and federal policing agency sources say they include Comanchero boss Mark Buddle (who lives in the United Arab Emirates), Hells Angels boss Angelo Pandeli (in Greece and UAE), Triad-linked figure Michael Tu (Hong Kong), Mohamad Bousaleh (Dubai), George Dib (Lebanon) and Hakan Arif (Turkey). An Adelaide bikie boss recently deported from Singapore and a Sydney logistics, port and transportation expert are also cartel members.

Alleged members of the “Aussie cartel”.Credit:

The cartel’s founding member and Australia’s most wanted priority target is Hakan Ayik, whom The Age, the Herald and 60 Minutes tracked down to Turkey, where he lives under a new name, Hakan Reis. Ayik, known as the “Facebook gangster”, now runs Istanbul’s King Cross Hotel and owns two homes in upmarket Turkish suburbs, including the Kemer Country gated community – information that has been provided to Australian Federal Police. Ayik has two children and married a Dutch woman, Fleur Messelink.

Ayik is suspected of co-operating with Pandeli and Buddle, formerly warring bikies who are now working together as part of the cartel to arrange importations, including a $1 billion methamphetamine shipment into Western Australia in 2017 and a January 2020 importation into Melbourne.

Mr Phelan was appointed to lead the Criminal Intelligence Commission in 2017 after rising to deputy commissioner for national security in the Australian Federal Police. His interview with The Age, Herald and 60 Minutes is the most expansive by a commission CEO in the history of the nation’s most secretive and powerful crime-fighting agency.

Asked why he was now speaking publicly when he had previously maintained a low profile, Mr Phelan said: “At this particular point in time, Australia is facing a very serious threat from [offshore] serious and organised crime.”

He said policing agencies, led by the commission and federal police, were using innovative ways to hunt cartel members, including seeking one-off extradition arrangements and targeting family members and associates in Australia who were helping the cartel.

“I don’t care about playing fair either,” Mr Phelan said. “Absolutely, we’re hunting them and we make no apology for that.”

He also revealed police across Australia would be increasing the targeting of the Comancheros.

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