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Case Study 3 – Use of position for illicit purposes

Between August 2012 and February 2013, four Customs and Border Protection officers were arrested. An officer of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and fifteen other people were also arrested. At the relevant time, one of these people was a baggage handler at Sydney International Airport.
The corrupt conduct observed in Operation Heritage–Marca (as it was known) involved long term collusion between a small number of Customs and Border Protection officers at Sydney International Airport. So far as can be ascertained, these officers commenced unauthorised importations of steroids in 2007, an enterprise which expanded in the intervening years to include more officers and the importation of the precursor drug pseudoephedrine.
Integrity Risk

  • The evidence gathered over more than two years of investigation showed how Environment and Susceptibility came together in a corrupt conspiracy.
  • The officers used their inside knowledge to defeat the surveillance and interdiction systems at Sydney International Airport. They also exploited their privileged access to the secure border environment and to law enforcement databases, and manipulated rosters and job placements to improve their chances of facilitating larger drug importations. In these ways, the officers enabled drug couriers to bypass screening by ACBPS and Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service officers. The officers were also found to have provided advice to the couriers on how to avoid detection and provided them with pre-stamped incoming passenger cards to this end.
  • The investigation found that several of the individuals in the network shared some common demographics, including school links, age and community ties. In addition, it was discovered that several of the officers routinely used illicit drugs. These same links and sources of obligation extended to friends who were active members in organised crime groups. This shared background and affinity meant that the circle of corruption could be widened with confidence.
  • The investigation found that the criminal conspiracy grew out of a combination of circumstances, including an organisational integrity culture that was naive to changes in the risk environment. Poor behaviour and workplace standards and a "currency of favours" between border staff allowed the officers to engage a wider circle of colleagues in their activities, without them necessarily becoming aware of the precise nature of the transactions.
  • A breakdown in supervision arrangements meant that concerns about suspicious conduct, when raised, were not adequately dealt with. In addition, no one area in ACBPS had an overview of concerns being raised about individuals. This situation led to a lack of confidence amongst officers that wrongdoing would be dealt with appropriately, and allowed poor standards of conduct to continue.
  • At the time, although reforms were starting to occur, there was a gap between the perception and the reality of the effectiveness of the anti-corruption measures. This resulted in ACBPS underestimating risk in environments that should have been recognised as high-risk, and having an over-confidence in the effectiveness of its newly established anti‑corruption measures. It also resulted in ACBPS assuming that no evidence of corruption meant that no corrupt activity was occurring. This situation resulted in too little attention being paid to systemic vulnerabilities that were then extant or emerging.
  • This widespread lack of awareness and denial that systemic and collusive corruption could occur to defeat the ACBPS system was a key factor in how corrupt conduct occurred. A better understanding of corruption pressure at the border has been a catalyst for the formation of the Australian Border Force.

Related documents:

  • Report 02/2014–Operation Heritage (Final Report)—a joint investigation of alleged corrupt conduct among officers of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service at Sydney International Airport Word Document PDF Document