Things That Matter

Australian Federal Police Busted A Colombian Gang’s Drug Home In An Very Wealthy Part Of Sydney

This is a story of a surprising find in a tranquil Australian suburb. What unfolds is a tale of hidden illegal activity and a surprise discovery. This all happened back in 2017, but legal proceedings are putting the spotlight on this case again. Cases like this bring to mind how many Latin American communities are stigmatized due to the incidence of drug-related crimes in the region, and how global cartels expand internationally. These processes of stigmatization not only affect everyday interactions but also wider policymaking, as the recent discussions around the proposed border wall in the US-Mexico border have highlighted. 

First things first: Australia is hard to reach for drug cartels.

Credit: image. Digital image. Business Insider

Oceania is the last bastion for international drug cartels. Australia, in particular, is heavily guarded but also has miles and miles of coast that is practically impossible to fully surveil. Cartels, however, have found ways to enter this market. In recent years, journalistic accounts of the role that international criminal networks have in the distribution of drugs in Australia has sparked public concern and debate. According to recent research published in The Age, “Australians consumed illegal drugs worth $9.3 billion in 2018”.  The presence of organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel in Australian cities and its role in the ice epidemic has sparked concerns among journalists and policymakers. The Australian media is up in arms every time the cartels are identified in the country. As reported by Daily Telegraph on January 28, 2019: “The Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, described as the most ruthless and deadly in the world, has joined forces with the increasingly dangerous Nigerian crime network in Sydney to carry out large-scale drug importation.” This story, for example, plays with fears of foreigners in a society that sometimes tends to be insular and afraid of immigration. Are reports like this generating stereotypes?

This is where this story begins:

Sylvania is like any upscale suburb in the ultra-expensive beachside city of Sydney, Australia.

Credit: Screenshot taken from RealEstate.com.au

Houses in Sylvania often reach the $1 million AUD mark. It is a pretty relaxed place with a mostly white population, but with pockets of Asian and Greek migrants. It is the synonym of a relaxed Aussie beach suburb. Nothing much happens and everything is usually closed by 7 p.m. 

There is some old money around, and plenty of new money.

Credit: Screenshot taken from RealEstate.com.au

When we said homes can easily reach a million, we were talking about the lower end of the spectrum. A four-bedroom apartment goes for more than two million Australian dollars. But look at those views!

From the outside, a suburban home in Sylvania was just another ordinary, sleepy household.

Credit: Image by Australian Federal Police

Nothing to suspect. Just a comfy couch and a bookshelf lined with Lonely Planet travel guidebooks. 

The cops suspected something was going on so they searched the property.

Credit: Image by Australian Federal Police

The Australian Federal Police was investigating a Sydney-based Colombian gang that was involved in the distribution of border-controlled drugs. The police were also following the trails of a money-laundering operation believed to be operated by Colombians. This all happened in 2017, but the details of the case are just being released as part of a court proceeding. As Australian Government News reported on July 12, 2019: “On 10 July 2019, the Supreme Court of NSW made orders which restrained a residential property in Sylvania, NSW, under section 19 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth) based on the allegation the property was used in, or in connection with, various drug offences under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).”

This is what they found behind the now-famous bookshelf: and now the police is trying to seize the property.

Credit: Image by Australian Federal Police

The authorities believed that the house was actually a custom made to fit in the illegal drug operation. For this reason, the authorities are looking to confiscate the house. In addition, the authorities charged a 45-year-old man (the police hasn’t disclosed his name for legal reasons) with multiple drug-related offenses: supplying cocaine, being in the possession of cannabis and, as reported by The Sun UK, ” dealing in proceeds of crime with a value that reached around $100,000.” This man pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years and six months in federal prison. 

Drugs, high tech transmitters, they really had everything they needed to run a drug business.

Credit: Image by Australian Federal Police

According to The Sun UK, police found that the property “was full of cash, replica weapons, tasers, and wireless transmitters, police confirmed”. This was a big hit on organized crime in Australia, a country that is hard to penetrate for drug cartels due to its tight borders and geographical isolation. There are also very few cases of police corruption. Officer Penelope Kelton, Coordinator of Criminal Assets Litigation, said (as per The Sun UK): “The ability to confiscate items used in the commission of crimes sends a clear message to the criminal underworld – if you commit the crime, we are prepared to target your assets. Drug-related crime puts a great strain on the community through increased health care costs, associated property crime and other forms of violence. It is only reasonable that police can fight back on behalf of the community by targeting those who seek to profit from inflicting this misery.”

Drug trafficking is a significant issue in Australia for multiple reasons.

Credit: mexico_drugs. Digital image. Australian Institute of International Affairs.

The illegal distribution and consumption of narcotics through global networks of criminal complicity is a significant social problem worldwide and public health concern in most Western countries, including Australia. Alongside the distribution of drugs, negative stereotypes about Global South populations run rampant. In particular, Latin American citizens from countries like Colombia and Mexico are stigmatized due to the negative image their home countries have in relation to the drug wars. 

Representation matters: not all Latinos are drug dealers!

Credit: Narcos / Netflix

Alongside extremism and terrorism, since the 1990s international criminal networks have been framed as one of the main challenges to Western democracies, a place formerly held by the Soviet Union and left-leaning countries. This understanding of recent world history has the potential to generate stereotypes that could influence national and international discussions regarding border security, as seen in the recent debate in the United States concerning the construction of a Southern border wall.

How stories like these are told in the media influences the way in which Latinos living in English-speaking and Global North countries are perceived. Australian newspapers emphasized the fact that those arrested were Colombian, which further adds to the bad rep that the country has in the Southern Hemisphere. To this, we have to add that most references that Australians and non-Latino Americans have of the region are through TV shows and movies. As a recent editorial by Hector Tobar published in The New York Times pointed out: “By the next network upfronts, or summer movie blockbuster season, Latino drug operatives may outpace their chief rivals — jihadist terrorists and Russians mobsters — and become the country’s leading screen bad guys”. 

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