A senior magistrate has described allegations of a criminal syndicate involving money laundering and illegal overseas workers as some of the most serious to come before a WA courtroom.
The first four men to face court following the weekend raids at Carabooda were remanded in custody today.
Wen Qing Tan, 37, Hng Hung Hock, 36, Heng Soon Bey, 46, and Vinh Quang Dinh, 49, each remained silent in the dock as their charges were read in the Perth Magistrates Court.
The four men are facing charges of dealing in proceeds of crime and all except Mr Dinh are charged with harbouring an unlawful non-citizen.
The court was told Mr Tan and Mr Dinh were offered bail but were unable to raise a surety.
Magistrate Paul Heaney denied a request from Mr Tan’s legal representative the surety be relaxed, adding he should not have been offered bail at all.
“These are serious charges,” Mr Heaney said. “Charges WA hasn’t seen the likes of before.”
All four men will reappear in court on May 27 when a further six men charged following the raids are due to make their first appearance.
A Vietnamese interpreter will be arranged for Mr Dinh while a Mandarin interpreter was requested for the other three men.
Meanwhile, police have revealed they have been investigating the syndicate since 2010.
Assistant Commissioner State Crime Craig Ward said the crime enterprise was allegedly involved in businesses in primary production, construction and the entertainment industry.
"It’s a very complex operation," Mr Ward said.
He said raids in the lead-up to Saturday’s crackdown had netted 3kg of methylamphetamines, 2kg of heroin and other drugs.
"Our plan is to not just to target these groups around the edges but to really go after the money and to dismantle these entities as much as we can," he said.
Police have completed 38 raids and 19 people had been charged with 32 federal and State offences.
More than $500,000 cash and 21 firearms, including illicit handguns and assault rifles, had been seized.
Mr Ward claimed some of those guns had been used in burglaries around Perth suburbs and investigations were ongoing into the alleged syndicate’s involvement in those crimes.
During the investigation more than 240 suspected illegal workers had been questioned and authorities had now identified 130 of them were unlawful.
They have been detained by the Department of Immigration but it is unclear when they will be deported.
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Ramzi Jabbour alleged the syndicate used foreign nationals who entered the country lawfully, many of whom overstayed their visas and were subsequently illegally harboured by the syndicate.
"The syndicate allegedly developed a sophisticated money-laundering scheme involving multiple companies, enabling underpayment to these foreign workers while retaining commissions and allegedly avoiding taxation payments," Mr Jabbour said.
"It appears the majority of foreign nationals were victims of the scheme and have allegedly been exploited by the syndicate."
He said until the Department of Immigration finished processing the unlawful foreigners the full impact of workers leaving the industry would not be known.
He alleged the syndicate recruited foreign nationals to work in the legitimate primary produce industry in WA and the money generated for the payment of the workers was then laundered through a complex web of companies through WA and Victoria.
Mr Jabbour said all 10 people charged in WA faced money-laundering offences, for which the maximum penalty was 25 years’ jail. Four had been charged with harbouring of unlawful non-citizens contrary to the Migration Act and the maximum penalty for that was 10 years.
Two people in Victoria had been charged with money-laundering offences.
Richard Grant, the Australian Crime Commission’s national manager of investigations, said the use of illegal workers where taxes were not paid created a loss of income for the Government, an unfair advantage for those companies and placed a strain on legitimate businesses.
He claimed the targets were a “highly resilient” organised crime group.
Earlier today it was revealed workers at fruit and vegetable shops knew all about the produce generated from the properties, but none of them knew anything more.
One local grower thought there had been something of a call to arms among workers in the area to help limit the disruption caused by the shock arrest and transfer to Northam of up to 180 foreigners. The grower suggested there may be a short-term "hand brake" put on produce and services but did not believe the problem would last long.
There were regularly door-knockers, not of the police kind, in the area looking for work and they were especially keen on the cash rewards.
City of Wanneroo director of city businesses Chris Morrison said the market growers in question had been under council scrutiny since 2009.
The men, women and children, found on a compound in Carabooda owned by TLF Exports, were allegedly living in squalid conditions, with several cramped into each room.
Acting Det-Supt Chris Adams said authorities were seeing evidence of the appalling working and living conditions being forced on people who were trying to make better lives for themselves.
“This police investigation will proactively target businesses who are exploiting illegal workers and who are linked to this organised crime syndicate,” he said.
City of Wanneroo health inspectors raided the same property in 2009 after concerns about a sewerage system running from a shed that housed overseas workers.