August 24, 2017 / 8:20 AM / 3 years ago

Australia says organised crime costing $28 billion a year

(This version of the August 24 story corrects first paragraph to note it refers to cost of organised crime to Australia as a whole, not just in the financial sector)

Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan speaks at a news conference in Beijing, China November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Alison Bevege

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Organised crime is costing Australia A$36 billion ($28.43 billion) a year, the criminal intelligence authority said on Thursday.

Money laundering was the main threat amid the rise of online banking and digital currencies, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) said in a report on organised crime in the country.

The Australian government earlier this month accused the country’s second-largest bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, of widespread breaches of money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing rules.

The government is concerned that encryption technology, including cryptocurrencies, allows transactions to evade detection, potentially enabling criminal activity and tax evasion.

“Bitcoin, for example, which can be traded anonymously and is as good as cash, is traded now on most significant international exchanges,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan said on Thursday.

Australia introduced legislation this month to bring Bitcoin providers under the oversight of the government’s financial intelligence unit.

The ACIC report also highlighted a rise in money laundering through sports betting, finding that several international crime syndicates owned online bookmaking enterprises.

Online sports betting is widespread in Australia with about 25.4 million mobile handset subscribers and 13.5 million internet subscribers in a country with just 24 million people.

Authorities fined Australia’s top betting company Tabcorp Holdings A$45 million (27.8 million pounds) in March for alleged breaches of money laundering laws.

Drugs were the prime source of illicit wealth for organised crime in Australia, while identity theft cost the nation an estimated A$2.2 billion in 2015-16, the ACIC report said.

Credit card fraud cost the nation A$521 million.

ACIC said it was working with the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Group — an alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States — to combat international crime.

Reporting by Alison Bevege. Editing by Jane Wardell and Kim Coghill

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