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Operation Ashiba and Taskforce Iris – Strengthening Australia’s response to serious and organised fraud

During the COVID-19 pandemic the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Operation Ashiba have been working tirelessly with its partners to protect Australia’s community. As part of these efforts the AFP collaborated with the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre (the Centre) to form the Commonwealth COVID-19 Counter Fraud Taskforce to focus on identifying, taking action on and preventing fraud against the COVID-19 financial support measures.

The AFP have two main Commonwealth fraud-related operations: Operation Ashiba and Operation Iris.

Operation Ashiba

Operation Ashiba is an AFP-led multi-agency taskforce comprising of AFP members and secondees from 11 Commonwealth partner agencies including AUSTRAC, ACIC, ACCC, Agriculture, ASIC, Defence, Services Australia, DSS, Education, Health and NDIA. This taskforce model allows them to leverage the individual and collective powers, capabilities, knowledge and experience of partner agencies. This also allows them to adopt a coordinated and integrated approach to detecting, disrupting and combatting serious and organised fraud against the Commonwealth.

Operation Ashiba also works closely with the Centre and a range of other Commonwealth agencies to improve Commonwealth capability to combat fraud. For example, as part of the Commonwealth COVID-19 Counter Fraud Taskforce, Operation Ashiba:

  • produced a series of Fraud in Focus papers
  • engaged with agencies to develop counter fraud and disruption responses, and
  • collaborated with the Centre to develop the Counter Fraud Deterrence Messaging Toolkit.

Importantly, Operation Ashiba also develops agency fraud referrals for AFP investigations. To illustrate:

In June 2020, three Canberra men were charged with conspiracy to defraud the Australian Government while working for an Australian public service agency. Police allege the men conspired to direct information technology contracts through preferred suppliers and then received financial benefits as a result of this activity. This was a significant achievement for Operation Ashiba who initially worked up the referral from the Department of Finance and were able to help AFP investigators with the search warrant activity and arrest of the three men.

Here are some ways Operation Ashiba can help your Commonwealth agency:

  • They can facilitate cross-agency intelligence sharing to identify fraud trends, emerging risks and opportunities to understand and disrupt the serious and organised crime threat
  • They can develop targets through detailed analysis of entities your agency believes are ‘high risk’ or known to engage in behaviour that is likely to be non-compliant
  • They can develop alternative treatment options and disruption strategies to cease or minimise fraud by leveraging the collective powers, capabilities, knowledge and experience of the participating agencies
  • The can facilitate workshops of agency investigations to provide support and advice from experienced AFP officers and investigators from several Commonwealth agencies who can provide insight into potential sources of evidence and intelligence that may support your enforcement strategy.

Commonwealth agencies can contact Ashiba-Ops@afp.gov.au for further information or support.

Taskforce Iris

In April 2020, the AFP established Taskforce Iris to target people and organised crime entities who plan to defraud the Australian Government’s COVID-19 financial support measures. Taskforce Iris comprises of two dedicated investigation strike teams in Melbourne and Sydney, supported by a range of AFP support capabilities including intelligence personnel and the AFP criminal assets confiscation teams. Additional investigation teams provide support across the country as required. Taskforce Iris also works closely with its key Commonwealth partners including the ACIC, ATO and AUSTRAC to exchange intelligence and coordinate investigation efforts as well as State and Territory Police Forces where necessary.

The Taskforce is currently undertaking a number of investigations into alleged fraudulent activity being committed against the measures and to date Taskforce Iris investigations have resulted in charges against four people. These arrests included a Western Sydney man who allegedly submitted claims for a range of government benefits designed to help members of the community affected by COVID-19 and the 2019-20 bushfires. He allegedly used 11 assumed identities and 53 fictitious identities to submit 68 claims to the value of $70,000. He was arrested on 30 April 2020 and charged with a range of Commonwealth offences including obtaining financial advantage by deception.

On 3 June 2020, Taskforce Iris re-arrested the man following allegations he committed a further offence on 15 May 2020 by attempting to fraudulently claim further benefits as well as breaching his bail conditions on a number of occasions.

 

Author: Australian Federal Police

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