Move to clean up Customs after drug sting

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 the travel patterns of two alleged drug mules prior to the start of operation Marca.

One of the young women, a professional dancer, is associated with businessman Jim Byrnes who yesterday offered $20,000 surety when she applied for 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 working yesterday.

"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 by the corruption revelations.

"I'm not so naive as to think that criminal elements will not attempt to penetrate this service, its systems and its staff," he told reporters.

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 board members will be "Australia's best corruption hunter", former royal commission head Justice James Wood, former NSW police commissioner Ken Moroney and former TNT chief executive David Mortimer.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus said the investigation may result in more arrests and there were fears more imports may have entered the country before it began.

"What these people have done is let everyone down in that process by allegedly bringing people past those barriers and past that process without any individual scrutiny," Mr Negus said.

"They're trusted to make judgments about passengers and they really act in those areas as the gatekeeper." AAP

Sydney Airport. Photo: Rick Stevens

Sydney Airport. Photo: Rick Stevens


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