AFP officers embroiled in corruption scandal
Exclusive: The shady activities of a string of Australian Federal Police protective service officers are under investigation with the national force embroiled in its biggest corruption scandal in decades.
A special News Corp investigation has discovered the AFP has suspended at least four protective service officers, and others may follow, after a series of raids on officers' homes and workplaces.
The wide-ranging allegations of wrongdoing could top hundreds of thousands of dollars at taxpayers' expense.
At the centre of the scandal is a scam siphoning off Australian Defence Force-funded assets for personal use including a series of vehicles, the latest a 4WD Pajero worth more than $50,000.
Other allegations include using unlimited petrol for personal use, as well as allegedly misappropriating office equipment and furniture.
But the original investigation has widened amid more claims of the same officers being involved in;
• travel rorts;
• falsifying AFP records and time sheets;
• misappropriating AFP property;
• and major credit card fraud.
It is the most serious fraud and corruption investigation into the AFP since the secretive Harrison inquiry in the 1990s which led to the sacking of seven AFP officers.
AFP sources have revealed to News Corp, they were warned not to talk about the investigation "in case it sparks a royal commission" into the wider activities of AFP protective service officers.
The allegations centre on a "mafia-style" group which sources said have been running rampant for almost 10 years.
While four officers have been suspended under investigation, it is understood the officer who considered himself "the Don" and featured in gangster-style photos taken of them together, has not been suspended and is still at work.
One female officer has been suspended as part of the investigation into the misuse of AFP resources, but she is not suggested to be part of the "mafia".
The investigation was launched late last year after a tip-off led to AFP professional standards officers visiting the Defence Force's Garden Island base in Sydney.
Initially the brief was to check on the number of defence force-funded vehicles in use by protective service officers - and found one missing.
It is understood the AFP hierarchy, under new Commissioner Reece Kershaw, moved quickly on the allegations and called in the law enforcement corruption watchdog, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI).
A Defence spokesman said "Defence expects the highest standards of behaviour from all staff working within the Defence Estate. Allegations of misconduct are taken very seriously and investigated.
"Defence is co-operating with the Australian Federal Police investigation into this matter. Any further queries regarding these allegations should be directed to the Australian Federal Police."
An AFP spokeswoman said it is longstanding practice not to comment on specific investigations.
But she said any allegations of criminal and serious misconduct are taken very seriously.
"AFP Professional Standards oversees and investigates complaints about the conduct of AFP appointees which may raise a breach of the AFP Code of Conduct, or which may result in the referral of criminal charges" and referrals are oversighted by the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Ombudsman and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI)."
It is understood, the officers under investigation had formed a clique which for had for years "deliberately abused positions of power for personal gain at the expense of government departments".
Well-placed sources said the clique relied on fear and intimidation to keep others quiet about their illegal activities, using "dirt files" on staff and unfavourable rostering to "destroy their lives" if they spoke out.
They said the fact that the "mafia" was allowed to operate for so long despite having "atrocious reputations" and known fraudulent activities "highlights an absolute failure of the AFP's internal governance, human relations, professional standards and core values".
Dr Michael Kennedy, the head of the University of Western Sydney Bachelor of Policing, said one of the major problems with the AFP over the years has been secrecy.
"Corruption occurs because of bad governance," Dr Kennedy said.
"They have been allowed to get away with secrecy and to an extent that has worked.
"The governance structure has been based around the chain of command - that needs to be changed so complainants are able to go outside the chain of command."
A former AFP Senior Sergeant, Ray Cooper, who investigated corruption in the AFP in the wake of the Harrison inquiry said "there needs to be a major investigation".
"Police forces never police themselves well, it is only when there is outside pressure that things come out," he said.
"What has happened in the AFP is that it has become more like a military organisation - where you cover up rather than admit anything.
"That is not the way police can survive long term, because sooner or later the cover-up becomes bigger than the original event.
"The Harrison inquiry was just a desktop review. It did not get into the real issues of corrupt police.
"We were told then to shut up … it sounds like it has not changed much.
"You have to accept there is always going to be rot. And you need to cut it out, not cover it up."
"There is always a group of individuals who allow it (corruption) to fester. They should be alert to the signs, especially when a group gets a name such 'the Sydney mafia'.
Originally published as AFP embroiled in corruption scandal