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    A pair of Sydney men are alleged to have committed $2.3 million worth of international money laundering charges after Police discovered over 64kg of silver & gold bullion as well as $170,000 cash.

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      money laundering

      $2.3 million alleged international money laundering scam exposed

      Police have exposed an alleged international fraud scheme and laid dozens of money laundering charges against the two perpetrators.

      Mark Estephan and Jamie Ronald Close were arrested on 17 November 2020 after a large-scale investigation was commenced earlier in the year.

      Both men have been refused bail in NSW and will remain in custody while their cases progress.

      Complex fraud investigation

      The Police facts allege that the pair defrauded nine Australians out of significant sums of money before transferring at least $2.3 million offshore.

      Investigators were alerted to suspicious transfers through AUSTRAC – the Australian financial intelligence agency.

      They were able to then discover a number of unauthorised remittance transfers to accounts in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

      How the alleged scam worked

      Police have disclosed that they believe the alleged victims were contacted by an unidentifiable person and persuaded to put their money into a number of investments that promised low risk and high return.

      Mr Estephan would then use accounts under his Sydney-based company A.C.E Global Consulting, which bills itself online as an “AWARD WINNING FIRM that offers a wide range of consulting services Specialising in Business Consulting and Investment Banking”.

      As the two men had not registered their operations with AUSTRAC as remittance businesses, they were not authorised to make offshore transfers.

      Sutherland Police Area Command Crime Manager, Detective Inspector Andrea Panozzo told media outlets:

      “Part of their ploy was to reward these customers with small returns and then of course they were convinced to invest larger amounts…And we tracked the funds into [accounts controlled by the accused men] and we noticed they were being transferred offshore to Asian, Middle Eastern and European countries.”

      This is a well-established method used by scammers to convince their victims to part with large sums of money.

      The initial small outlays are rewarded with profits. This leads the victim to believe that they should invest a significantly larger amount of money. When this occurs, the scammers disappear.

      Anti-Money Laundering Charges

      Mr Estephan, 40, was arrested outside Sutherland Police Station and charged with 41 unauthorised remittance offences under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act, dealing with proceeds of crime and possessing goods suspected of being stolen.

      The co-accused, Jamie Ronald Close, 49, was arrested at his Kirrawee home and charged with 18 offences under the anti-money laundering laws, driving while suspended, possessing goods suspected of being stolen, and two counts of dealing with proceeds of crime greater than $100,000.

      Mr Close held himself out as a holistic health coach, while Mr Estephan claimed to be the CEO of an international investment firm.

      Mark Estephan is accused of over $2.3million in money laundering offences

      Both men were refused bail by police and appeared at Sutherland Local Court. Given the significant sums of money involved, their lawyers for bail applications will need to prepare a compelling case for the pair to be released.

      Dealing with money or property that was proceeds of crime is an offence under Section 193B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

      The prosecution must prove that:

      1. The Accused dealt with (ie. received, possessed, concealed or disposed of) money or property; and
      2. (Depending on the level of knowledge alleged) The Accused knew; or was reckless; or was negligent as to that money or property being proceeds of crime; and
      3. (Only if charged with intending to conceal) intended to conceal that it was proceeds of crime.

      There are also a number of defences to money laundering charges which can be used to be found ‘not guilty’ of this offence.

      When there are large sums of money involved, Police can apply to the Supreme Court of NSW for ‘freezing orders’.

      This will prevent you accessing your bank accounts and can even cause your assets to be frozen. You will not be able to withdraw money from those accounts or sell those assets while the freezing orders are in place.

      Search warrants uncover gold, silver and cash

      Police executed search warrants in Kirrawee and Cronulla. They were able to locate $170,000 in cash, 64kg of silver bullion worth an estimated $55,000 and two ounces of gold bullion worth an estimated $5000.

      “This is a large-scale coordinated criminal enterprise we have successfully disrupted,” Detective Inspector Panozzo said.

      To date, Police have been able to locate nine victims across NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. It was revealed that one family was allegedly defrauded out of $1 million.

      However the investigation is ongoing and there is potential that further complainants could come forward. The pair’s lawyers for fraud charges have yet to comment publicly on whether the charges will be defended.

      International national remittance transfers

      Brad Brown, AUSTRAC’s national manager of education, capability and communications, spoke to media on the prevalence of fraudulent transactions.

      In his view, people involved with criminal activity could try to illegally transfer proceeds of crime overseas. However, he also said international remittance transfers were generally legitimate but businesses facilitating the transfers had to be registered.

      “The further you distance yourself from the illicit proceeds that you have, the harder it is for law enforcement to track those funds across the world,” Mr Brown said.

      Statistics show that in the 2019-20 financial year, $72 billion was transferred into and out of Australia using registered money transfer services. This was equal to roughly 21.7 million transactions reported to AUSTRAC.

      Charged with money laundering?

      Usually money laundering charges are complex and difficult to defend. However, there have been a number of recent examples of people being found ‘not guilty’ to money laundering charges or avoiding jail. Having the best criminal lawyers for money laundering charges is crucial in beating these charges.

      If you have been accused of money laundering, it is important to obtain advice from a specialist criminal lawyer who has a successfully defended hundreds of persons charged with serious and complex fraud offences. Call Astor Legal on (02) 7804 2823. Or, you can email info@astorlegal.com.au.

      We have offices throughout the Sydney metropolitan area where you can speak to Criminal Lawyers in Parramatta, Sydney and Liverpool. We can arrange a conference for you with a Law Society Accredited Specialist in money laundering offences.

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