Aussie cops bust Chinese-backed exchange linked to crypto laundering

Police in Australia have arrested seven individuals linked to a Chinese syndicate-controlled remittance company accused of laundering AU$228 million ($144 million) in illicit fiat and cryptocurrency.

The operation, dubbed Avarus-Nightwolf, saw more than 300 police officials carry out 20 search warrants across mainland Australia and seize over AU$50 million ($32 million) in property, luxury vehicles, and high-end goods. 

The multi-billion dollar Changjiang Currency Exchange is said to have been secretly operated by the Long River syndicate. 

According to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), money laundered by the Changjiang Currency Exchange “was linked to the exploitation of an investment application called MetaTrader, and other platforms dealing in foreign exchange and cryptocurrencies.”

It’s said the firm moved over AU$10 billion ($6.3 billion) in the past three financial years. And while most of the funds it dealt with are thought to be legal, the AFP claims that at least AU$228 million comes from scams, trafficking of illegal goods, and violent crimes. 

Read more: Another Chinese national arrested for $100M crypto scam in Australia

Operation Avarus-Nightwolf and Operation Wickham were established in August 2022 to investigate the syndicate. The AFP first took notice of the remittance firm after it updated and opened new Sydney shop fronts during COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Assistant Commissioner Stephen Dametto said the investigation was complex due to the fact that “this alleged syndicate was operating in plain sight with shiny shopfronts across the country — it was not operating in the shadows like other money laundering organisations.”

The Changjiang Currency Exchange also offered anti-money laundering law advice to customers in an attempt to appear law-abiding. It even hired a former government minister to promote the firm. 

Former minister Gary Hardgrave told the Australian Financial Review, “I was engaged to help spruik the business. I’m not involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.” The publisher says there’s no implication that Mr. Hardgrave committed any crime.

The seven charged individuals are expected to appear in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Thursday. 

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