IN a quiet Parramatta street, hidden off the main drag, the small grocery store Little Persia was doing a roaring trade. But it was not bread, milk or traditional Middle Eastern delicacies that made the family-run business so profitable.
It was $34 million of drug money that came into their bank account over a three-month period and was sent overseas.
But authorities would learn this was only the start of the exponential growth. According to Austrac, a government agency that tracks money transactions, Little Persia’s bank account grew to $95 million over 10 months. Of that, $55 million was sent overseas and the rest laundered and distributed through the community in a diverse portfolio of legitimate investments.
Two men linked to Little Persia – one of them the co-owner, Iranian-born Amir Rafizadeh – were jailed in August for their part in the money laundering operation following an investigation led by the Australian Federal Police. On one occasion, police discovered the shop had sent $4 million to Iran. Bags of cash were collected in car parks across Sydney then transferred to the ”Gold Corporation” in Tehran and other destinations through the Commonwealth Bank.As part of their efforts to smash money laundering and terrorist financing, the AFP and the Australian Crime Commission, along with Austrac, busted the Little Persia racket in October 2009. The Sun-Herald has learned the case was one of the country’s biggest scams, cleaning millions of dollars for crime syndicates. Investigations continue into a raft of organised crime groups that used the service.
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