GLOBAL ORGANISED CRIME
Australian cocaine trafficking-accused ‘De Niro’ with SA links has brotherly ties to R12bn global crime web
Australian cops recently made arrests for cocaine smuggled there on a plane from South Africa. It turns out the alleged kingpin, suspected of using the alias ‘De Niro’, has two brothers who were subsequently arrested for alleged ties to one of Australia’s most powerful gangs.
South Africa has emerged as central to a cocaine-trafficking syndicate operating in Australia, whose suspected mastermind has two brothers accused of being part of one of that country’s “most powerful organised crime networks”.
The network, according to the New South Wales police, originated in Lebanon and was involved in firearms, drugs, money laundering and tobacco offences involving more than A$1-billion (more than R12-billion).
Daily Maverick can reveal how a series of arrests across several countries point to tentacles of crime leading to and from that network – and to South Africa.
Cocaine from SA to Oz
A crime crackdown in Australia, with a direct connection to this country, is where those links start emerging.
On 7 October 2023, 100kg of cocaine, worth an estimated A$40-million (about R489-million) was intercepted in the cargo hold of a passenger plane that flew from South Africa to Sydney.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Australian cops ground suspected traffickers after cocaine worth R500m flown in from SA
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) had said that aside from the cocaine discovery, five suspected traffickers were arrested after a yearlong project codenamed Operation Lucian.
That project was launched in October 2022 “following a report from an airline of suspicious activity that occurred near the cargo area of a Sydney-bound flight in Johannesburg”.
The AFP has dismantled a significant organised crime enterprise by charging five Sydney men for their roles in importing about 100kg of cocaine in the cargo hold of a passenger plane from South Africa.https://t.co/meCiOkKmAf
— AFP (@AusFedPolice) October 8, 2023
According to AFP, among the five arrested was a 42-year-old man from Padstow, a suburb southwest of Sydney’s central business hub.
He was allegedly “the primary Australian facilitator of this endeavour, liaising with organised figures overseas to source the cocaine, have it placed on an aircraft and then arrange for its onward distribution in Australia”.
The Padstow man was subsequently named as Ahmed Haouchar, who is believed to have used the alias De Niro.
Last week The Sydney Morning Herald reported that he was granted bail so he could go to a drug rehabilitation facility.
Lebanon links and a Lamborghini
Meanwhile, about five weeks after the Sydney airport crackdown, the New South Wales Police announced a breakthrough in another investigation.
Like Operation Lucian that ran for a year before the Sydney cocaine bust, the New South Wales investigation, codenamed Strike Force Tromperie, was conducted over a year.
On 15 November, the New South Wales police said: “Police have arrested a total of 28 people, executed 43 warrants and seized 25 firearms as part of a large-scale investigation by the Organised Crime Squad targeting one of the most powerful Organised Criminal Networks in Australian history…
“Across the course of the investigation, a total of 25 firearms have been seized, as well as… nearly $1.5-million in cash, $2-million in cryptocurrency, a Lamborghini, over $3-million worth of luxury watches, equipment consistent with drug manufacture, and two tonnes of prohibited drugs and precursor drugs with a street value of over $130-million.”
The network had originated in Lebanon.
According to the News South Wales police, among those arrested during the Tromperie crackdown was a man taken into custody on 12 November at Sydney International Airport (where the cocaine from South Africa had been intercepted the previous month).
Three crime-accused brothers
It turned out that the man was Ahmed Haouchar’s brother Nedal.
While the New South Wales police did not name him in the days after his arrest, it said: “He was charged with nine offences, including knowingly direct activities of a criminal group, three counts of supplying prohibited drugs, and five counts of dealing with property proceeds of crime in excess of $4.4-million.”
During court proceedings in Australia last week, Nedal’s legal representative reportedly said the case against him “could not be described as strong”.
Among those also flagged in the overall Tromperie investigation was a man believed to be in Lebanon – another of Haouchar’s brothers, Bilal, who was “wanted by virtue of an outstanding warrant in relation to alleged drug-related offences”.
Back in March 2019, the New South Wales police publicised that Bilal was a wanted suspect.
Can you help Strike Force Raptor locate Bilal Haouchar, who is wanted on two outstanding warrants, including an arrest warrant for kidnapping, and breaching a community order? It follows the arrest of a man over a kidnapping in #Merrylands https://t.co/cnOCR99IpI pic.twitter.com/YiAFfpxqfn
— NSW Police Force (@nswpolice) March 14, 2019
Deb Wallace, a detective superintendent with the police, said at the time: “[Bilal Haouchar] is wanted on two outstanding warrants, including an arrest warrant for kidnapping, and breaching a community order…
“Detectives believe Mr Haouchar is overseas and will continue working closely with interstate and federal law enforcement agencies to find him.”
According to a New South Wales Supreme Court judgment from 2018, linked to legal issues which Bilal faced, his parents were born and raised in Lebanon.
He had two sisters and four brothers.
“Two of his brothers have been involved in the criminal justice system for violence and firearms-related offences,” the judgment said.
By the age he was 32, Bilal himself, who is now about 37, had spent about 17 years in state custody.
After the Strike Force Tromperie crime crackdown driven by New South Wales cops in November 2023, it was widely reported that Bilal had been arrested in Lebanon, on 14 or 15 November.
Joburg airport arrests
A crackdown in South Africa coincided with that – and was connected to Ahmed Haouchar’s arrest.
“These suspects are employees of various companies at ORTIA where they are said to be facilitating the thoroughfare of drugs coming into and out of the airport,” Hawks spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale said at the time.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Five suspected traffickers arrested at OR Tambo airport in sting after R500m cocaine flown from SA to Australia
Two of the suspects worked for the Airports Company South Africa, two worked for Menzies Aviation, while a fifth was employed at Swissport.
They were detained for alleged drug trafficking and contravening the Civil Aviation Act, as well as the Customs and Excise Act.
Mogale had said this was “after a large drugs consignment was recently confiscated in Australia and two suspects arrested”.
‘Someone in South Africa’
A week later, on 22 November, Australia’s Federal Police confirmed the 15 November arrests at ORTIA were linked to the 100kg cocaine bust there on 7 October.
According to a statement, a Padstow man, presumably Ahmed Haouchar, “liaised with someone in South Africa – or with connections in the country – to source 100kg of cocaine and have it placed on an aircraft”.
The Australian statement continued: “It will be alleged this man was also responsible for its onward distribution in Australia.”
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Dametto had also referenced arrests linked to Australia carried out in Turkey in November, saying it showed the impact of international cooperation.
Last month, Daily Maverick reported that among those arrested in Turkey was Hakan Ayik, also known as Joseph Hakan Ayik.
He is a Turkish citizen who allegedly headed an outlaw motorcycle gang rooted in Australia, where he was wanted for drug smuggling.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Most-wanted drug trafficker’ accused of peddling FBI hacked phones linked to South Africa, arrested in Turkey
Ayik was previously suspected of using planes to fly drugs out of South Africa.
He was also accused of peddling encrypted communication devices, which the US Federal Bureau of Investigation was secretly monitoring, to drug traffickers who were unaware that they were basically communicating about crime with cops instead of just themselves.
Read more in Daily Maverick: No business like blow business: Encrypted devices unravel knots of worldwide organised crime
Daily Maverick has reported extensively on cocaine trafficking channels between South Africa and Australia.
The smuggling of the drug between the two countries on planes is not new.
In this journalist’s book, Clash of the Cartels: Unmasking the global drug kingpins stalking South Africa, a chapter focuses on such trafficking.
In 2019, Damion Flower and John Mafiti, who about 23 years ago worked as baggage handlers for Qantas airline at Sydney International Airport, were arrested for effectively getting cocaine into Australia on planes from South Africa.
Both were eventually sentenced to time in jail. DM