Monday September 26, 2022

How Australia trapped Altaf Khanani

February 07, 2018

LONDON: He was one of the world's most-wanted money launderers and it was Australian taxpayers which helped uncover his network, reports Daily Mail. The sting which brought down Altaf Khanani, a criminal who washed more than $1 billion worldwide, was a high risk play fronted by Australia. It paid off as his global operation funding some of the world's biggest organised crime gangs was dismantled and Khanani was jailed.

The operation to snare Khanani was the subject of an Australian Story episode aired on the ABC on Monday night. It included the Australian government putting up $1million and creating a fake drug cartel which needed to clean some money into legitimate assets.

His links to criminal groups in Australia included motorcycle gangs, ice traffickers, Lebanese groups and other groups operating out of Italy, Vietnam and Mexico in Melbourne and Sydney. But the biggest risk to the whole operation was the use of Australian taxpayer dollars being handed over to one of the world’s most elusive and notorious criminals.

The obvious risk was that it could be a hugely expensive mistake if the trap could not be set and prise Khanani, originally from Pakistan, from his Dubai hideout. The plan was to send an Australian undercover and build up a rapport with the man known to have a thriving offshore laundering operation.

Investigators first noticed millions of dollars leaving Australian accounts and connections to businesses overseas through off-book transactions. The necessity to infiltrate Khanani’s organisation would be key to catching him and the international law enforcement network knew Australia’s role would be crucial.

He was wanted in the USA and Australia due to his links to organised drug crime with a network spreading as far and wide as Dubai, Birmingham in the UK and Karachi. But the American Drug Enforcement Administration could not raise the cash.

In 2013, a Mexican from the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel arrived in Melbourne and carried out two operations which saw AU$1m handed over in broad daylight to an Indian representative and Italian man.

The operation to catch him involved more than 100 people from law enforcement agencies in Britain, Australia, USA, Canada and New Zealand. In order to catch Khanani and extradite him to the USA, the operation had to prove he had laundered US$1m.

The trap was set for various money drops to take place - the first of which taking place for $100,000 in a parking lot in New Jersey. A nervous five days later and the money had been cleaned and returned via an apparently legitimate business minus Khanani’s commission.

Further cash drops were carried out in Houston, Atlanta and New York and each time, Khanani came up with the goods without suspecting a thing. The final drop came in Texas taking the amount to be laundered past the boundary of US$1m.

He was convinced to travel to Panama for a new business opportunity by the undercover agent based in Sydney where a team of agents from the USA were waiting for him. Khanani was jailed for five and a half years.