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AFP Targets Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs Responsible for Drug Trafficking

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The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has announced a campaign targeting outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) that have fled to South-East Asia to evade law enforcement. The AFP believes groups including the Comanchero, Hells Angels, Bandidos, and Lone Wolf are responsible for trafficking tonnes of drugs into Australia annually. 

The drugs allegedly smuggled by OMCGs include methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. Assistant Commissioner Nigel Ryan noted that motorcycle gangs are expanding their influence across South-East Asia to control their supply chains and trafficking corridors. He added: “About 70 percent of the transnational serious organized crime threats impacting Australia come from overseas, and a sizeable chunk of those are OMCG members, or criminals, who regularly work with OMCG facilitators or distributors.”

Commenting on the AFP’s focus areas, Ryan added the police are “looking for opportunities to attack OMCG supply chains and disrupt their business models. We also disrupt their finances to reduce their ability to profit from their crimes.”

Ryan was speaking at an international conference on OMCGs in Vietnam. Following the event, Vietnam’s Major General Ho Sy Niem said the summit had given his country “an increased appreciation of the spectrum of criminal activity OMCGs are involved in, including drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and violent crime.”

In February 2022, Australian police arrested two people in an investigation into OMCG-related drug trafficking in Victoria. In June, the AFP also announced a broader focus on organized crime groups in Australia through Operation Ironside. Law enforcement intends to target the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which it believes is responsible for 70-80% of the global cocaine trade.  

Patterns and Trends in OMCG Criminal Behavior

Compared to other organized crime groups, little information exists about the operation of OMCGs, and how best to detect their illicit activities. To help address this, in 2021, the Australian government published a review of existing literature covering the structure, social networks, and criminal activities of outlaw motorcycle gangs. 

It highlights that OMCGs have expanded their presence to include operations across Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia. The research showed that patterns of criminal behavior among OMCG members varied, though the percentage of gang leaders and members with criminal records was typically high. 

When OMCGs commit crimes, the networks involved are typically small and undefined, including members and non-members. The extent to which organized criminal behavior overlaps with the hierarchical structure of OMCGs remains unclear. In many cases, leaders are kept at “a strategic distance” and are “buffered” by other club members who directly carry out more risky activities. 

The government highlights three possible scenarios related to the operation of OMCGs:

  • The rotten apples scenario: Gang members act alone or with other members/non-members but are not given specific direction by leaders to engage in a crime. 
  • The club within a club scenario: There is a significant overlap between the club’s organizational structure and the structure of networks of criminal activity. 
  • The club is a criminal organization: The club is organized and structured to commit crimes, with the firm setting and enforcing rules and taxing legal and illegal business activities in their territory.  

Given the opaque nature of the risks and behaviors that may indicate OMCG activity, compliance teams should review the research and guidance provided by the government in detail. Map indicators such as those listed to transaction monitoring and adverse media screening processes to discover connected individuals and criminal records, which may trigger enhanced due diligence.

In its most recent mutual evaluation of Australia, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) noted that Australia’s drug markets “are said to be some of the world’s most profitable and most drugs can be obtained.” The FATF argued that drug trafficking is a “serious and growing issue” and highlighted the connection to transactional organized crime groups in South East Asia and South America.


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Originally published July 15, 2022, updated July 15, 2022

Disclaimer: This is for general information only. The information presented does not constitute legal advice. ComplyAdvantage accepts no responsibility for any information contained herein and disclaims and excludes any liability in respect of the contents or for action taken based on this information.

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