Employees of Australia's biggest airport baggage and cargo contractor have allegedly been working with a cell of corrupt customs officers to smuggle millions of dollars worth of drugs through Sydney Airport.
Fairfax Media can reveal that David Harb, a former Sydney Airport baggage handler from global cargo handling giant Menzies Aviation Services, was arrested on Tuesday along with two allegedly corrupt customs officers. At least one other Menzies employee is under scrutiny.
A total of four customs officers and one quarantine inspection service official are among the 17 people so far arrested by Operation Marca, a two-year federal anti-corruption and organised crime probe into suspected drug trafficking at Sydney Airport's international terminal.
Members of the cell are suspected to have been involved in multiple importations worth tens of millions of dollars since 2009.
Mr Harb is the cousin of Joseph Anthony Harb, who was charged last year by Operation Marca with drug trafficking and bribing a customs official.
Joseph Harb is allegedly a central player in the trafficking cell and it is his relationship with suspected corrupt customs officers which underpinned the cell's operations. It is also understood that the Comanchero outlaw bikie gang has suspected links to Joe Harb and has profited from the drug trafficking allegedly carried out by the cell.
On Tuesday, the federal police and corruption watchdog, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, arrested five people across Sydney in connection to four alleged importations of pseudoephedrine, which is used to make ice.
''It will be alleged that these customs officers held trusted positions within the airport environment and allowed the syndicate to facilitate corrupt and criminal behaviour with relative impunity for some time,'' the federal police commissioner Tony Negus, told a media conference on Tuesday. He also flagged further arrests.
Mr Negus said that the two customs officers arrested on Tuesday included a supervisor and that they allegedly ''directed resources and monitored CCTV to allow the importation to take place''.
David Harb is alleged to have taken drug-filled suitcases from planes while working as a baggage handler. The bags were allegedly then smuggled past customs.
It's alleged that the four imports took place in March and June last year, with the final drug load smuggled by two couriers - who were both arrested at the time - on a plane from Vietnam on June 6. When police intercepted this fourth shipment, they found 40 kilos of pseudoephedrine, enough to make about 28 kilos of ice, worth up to $9.5 million.
The arrested customs officers are a 40-year old Kingsgrove man and a 38-year-old Blacktown man. Arrested along with Mr Harb, 29, of Petersham, was a 30-year-old Earlwood man and a 35-year-old Oxley Park man, who is the brother of one of the officers and is facing charges of dealing with the proceeds of crime.
It is expected that the men will be charged with drug trafficking and bribery offences.
Acting customs CEO Michael Pezzullo put customs officers on notice. He said tougher rules were being introduced last Friday with required officials to report any illegal activity and misconduct.
''It's quite evident that in this case at least, under those basic supervisory checks and balances, have either been neglected, have fallen apart or have not been undertaken. That's just the straight facts of the matter.
''That is being remedied. I've given directions to the relevant senior managers that everyone along that chain needs to lift their game . . . they'll be held accountable.
''It's my intention . . . to drop the disciplinary hammer on any officers who have neglected to perform that basic legal duty.''
with David Wroe