20 arrested in Customs corruption probe

WIDE changes to the way Australia's customs system operates will be made after a corruption probe led to the arrests of 20 people and the seizure of drugs, cash and assets.

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity probe, Operation Heritage, investigated alleged corrupt conduct among Customs officers at Sydney Airport.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the investigation's interim report, released on Saturday, followed 20 arrests and the seizure of 54kg of pseudoephedrine, as well as cash and assets valued at about $237,000.

He said the report highlighted the "enduring lesson" that corruption risk followed opportunity for illicit profit, and policies must reflect such risks.

Set up last year, the probe has recommended tightened restrictions on Customs officials, drug and alcohol testing and numerous new integrity measures.

Customs chief executive Michael Pezzullo said the report showed the service was committed to combating the problems.

He said significant changes, including drug and alcohol testing, had been underway, and a new integrity, security and assurance division was created within the service.

"In addition, we have already taken direct action in our international airports to address the issues raised in today's ACLEI interim report related to culture, professional standards and officer supervision," Mr Pezzullo said.

"They are accompanied by other measures being introduced across the entire service which will strengthen our resilience against, and our ability to detect, the type of activity which has been alleged in these cases."

He said for those officers who continued to do the wrong thing, "there is no escape from the new integrity approach and your time is up".

Investigations into the alleged corruption will continue.


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