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A green Woolworths plastic bag stuffed with $80,000 cash swung in the hand of an unassuming man in a black and blue hoodie as he melted into the crowd on Pendle Hill’s main drag – he appeared to stare right down the barrel of the covert agent’s camera.
Sujiharan Thambirajah, however, was oblivious to the Australian Federal Police surveillance teams shadowing him across Sydney’s west in winter 2022.
Money launderer Sujiharan Thambirajah detected by covert AFP agents and CCTV shifting millions of dollars in cash.
Inside a Westpac branch one afternoon in June 2022, Thambirajah handed over “large bundles” of $50 and $100 banknotes. Half an hour later he was at St George Winston Hills handing over more money – the AFP camera snapped as Thambirajah calculated “34,400” on his phone.
When the AFP eventually closed in on their quarry in September 2022, they found Thambirajah clutching his ubiquitous plastic bag with more than $100,000 in cash and multiple bank cards.
Over the six months, his plastic bag outings to banks across Sydney had seen him deposit an estimated $8.72 million in cash.
This week The Herald revealed seizures of underworld assets were about to surpass $1 billion, now Thambirajah’s case offers a glimpse of the legion of “cash mules” who help vanish millions of dollars from shadowy sources every week.
A bag containing tens of thousands of dollars in cash Thambirajah planned to wash in a western Sydney bank.
Thambirajah on Friday will face the NSW District Court after pleading guilty to dealing with more than $1m suspected proceeds of an indictable crime.
He also pleaded guilty to unregistered money remitting, an anti-money laundering charge that carries a maximum 15 years prison.
An AFP source not permitted to speak publicly confirmed to The Herald that Thambirajah was one of many cash mules whose work across Sydney helped shadowy figures get their wealth out of the country and sometimes into the legitimate financial system to fund lives of luxury.
Thambirajah is only a bit player, the source confirmed, but his arrest was part of a broader strategy against money remitters who enable Transnational Serious Organised Crime (TSOC) – high-level gangs that operate across the world.
Thambirajah on CCTV during a bank run in mid-2022.
“TSOC includes some of the most serious crime threats impacting Australia: the manufacture and trade of illicit drugs, firearms fuelling criminal violence, money laundering operations distorting financial markets, and people smuggling,” an AFP strategy paper from May reads.
Thambirajah had registered two companies, Focus Cleaning and Foxhill Trading, neither were authorised money remitters; businesses used to wire money across the world particularly among migrant communities with legal reasons to send money home.
Thambirajah handing over bundles of cash to a bank teller.
Between April and September last year, however, the 46-year-old bounced almost $400,000 across the world for commissions from a Focus Cleaning account.
Thambirajah’s friend, who The Herald is identifying as AB for legal reasons, allegedly told police he gave Thambirajah cash to deposit, and drove him around the city.
AB allegedly told police he was working with legitimate and registered money remitters to send money abroad for dozens of people. Investigators picked through AB’s affairs, uncovering a sheep grazing business supposedly owned by his wife.
The grazing business, according to tax documents, had a turnover of $0 but declared more than $130,000 in income and was registered as a money remitter.
It was alleged in the court documents AB and his wife are on Jobseeker and did not lodge tax returns, their declared occupations are convenience store worker and cleaner.
But the grazing business had declared more than $11.2m in overseas money remitting to the authority, AUSTRAC, with $4.63m of that total linked to a company run by major drug importer, Maruyan Perinparasa.
The AFP court document says Perinparasa pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of methamphetamine precursor, pseudoephedrine, last month.
Police don’t suggest Thambirajah ever knew the money he was handling was potentially linked to the admitted drug lord.
“It is not alleged that [Thambirajah] was aware of any potential connection between the cash deposits the subject of the charges and drugs offences or Perinparasa,” the AFP court document reads.
Thambirajah’s high profile solicitor, Omar Juweinat, declined to comment.
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