Customs officers arrested

 THE discovery of a sophisticated drug smuggling racket allegedly involving Sydney Airport Customs officers has prompted the establishment of a reform board to ensure the service is clean.

Two Customs officers, one officer from the quarantine service and five members of the public, have been charged following a joint investigation involving the AFP, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI).

The operation, codenamed Marca, started nearly two years ago but one of the accused Customs officers began work as early as 2006.

Authorities will also review  travel patterns of two alleged drug mules prior to operation Marca.

One of the young women, a professional dancer, is associated with businessman Jim Byrnes who yesterday offered $20,000 surety  for her bail in a Sydney court.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said more arrests were possible and he had a message for the estimated 5000 Customs officers.

‘‘You can expect more stings, you can expect more arrests and you can expect more reform,’’ he said.

‘‘If you’re corrupt we’ll hunt you down and lock you up.’’

Around January, Customs identified what it believed was potential evidence of corruption at Sydney Airport and referred its suspicions to the ACLEI.

Customs acting chief Michael Pezzullo said he was disappointed but not surprised.

‘‘I’m not so naive as to think that criminal elements will not attempt to penetrate this service, its systems and its staff,’’ he said.

Mr Clare announced the federal government would be establishing a Customs Reform Board which would provide him with advice and recommendations on how to bolster integrity in the agency.

The  members will be ‘‘Australia’s best corruption hunters’’, former royal commission head Justice James Wood, former NSW police commissioner Ken Moroney and former TNT CEO David Mortimer.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Tony Negus said the investigation may end in more arrests.

The Customs officers allegedly arranged for the two women to travel overseas and bring 10kg quantities of the precursor drug pseudoephedrine – used to manufacture methamphetamine – back from Thailand and another undisclosed location.

They would meet their accomplices at the plane, escort them through the Customs area of the airport and then into the arrivals hall where they were free to continue on their way with the drugs.

Acting Greens leader Adam Bandt said the new board was ‘‘a nice idea’’ but it was time for a national anti-corruption body.  AAP 


Adrian Paul Lamella, 28, Customs Officer, from Burwood, charged with receiving bribes, drug possession and importation and possessing prohibited weapons

   Paul John Katralis, 26, Customs Officer, from Menai, appeared yesterday, first appeared in August

    Svetlana Colakovic, 35, AQIS officer, from Caringbah, charged with receiving a corrupt benefit and other corruption offences

   Annette Ilse Talbot, 22, alleged drug mule, from North Sydney, charged with drug importation 

   Krystal Hill, 27, alleged drug mule, from Abbotsford, charged with drug importation offences

   Joseph Harb, 27, from Ashfield, due to be sentenced January 16

   Isabel Martin, 20, from Swansea, first appeared in August, committal hearing March 1

  Sean Liam Hutchinson, 28, first appeared in October, committal hearing March 1

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