Millions laundered through Sydney pokies as part of cocaine cartel

By William Brown Updated
Star Sydney has a new CEO

New South Wales police have revealed that a man who gambled and laundered $100 million in a week on poker machines at Sydney’s star casino was part of a gang that planned to import cocaine worth $900 million into the country. 42-year-old Mende Rajkoski was one of three men arrested last week in relation to the alleged plot.

He was observed laundering the money through Star’s gaming machines in 2020, prompting authorities to covertly examine his finances.

This led them to uncover the alleged conspiracy to smuggle there tons of cocaine from South American, which in turn, led to the largest intercept ever of the drug for Australia.

Last October, acting on information from Australian authorities, the US Navy seized 870 kilograms of cocaine from two speedboats off the coast of Colombia, NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said.

Then in April, the US Coast Guard intercepted a further 900 kilograms on a boat travelling off the coast of Ecuador.

Cocaine bust keeps $900 million worth of cocaine off Sydney streets

Using a photograph taken during the April raid, NSW police constructed a replica of the haul, which was taken to a storage facility to be used in a sting operation.

Rajkoski was arrested when he turned up to collect what he thought was millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine.

His accomplices Nikolao Misa and Gjelosh Nikollaj were also arrested shortly afterwards.

Misa is the director of a company called Shield Venue Security.

Nikollaj was out on parole after serving a 2006 sentence for narcotics smuggling.

Both Rajkoski and Misa previously worked at the cargo supply area of Sydney Airport.

Police allege the pair were involved in additional narcotics smuggling operations during this time.

“Prior to the arrest, this syndicate was in the throes of breaking the 900 kilograms of replaced drug into the streets of Sydney and it would have achieved that quickly,” Smith said.

“The farmers in Colombia get about two bucks a day. The cartels are making $3.80 a gram and by the time it’s gone through an international syndicate’s hands and hits the streets of Sydney, ‘tis worth $400 a gram.”

Financial crimes watchdog kept busy by casinos

Financial crime in Australian casinos has come into hard focus recently.

Star’s competitor, Crown Resorts, lost its Sydney licence after it was adjudged to have facilitated money laundering by criminal gangs.

This included those with links to the notorious triad drugs cartel, the Company.

Also known as Sam Gor, the Company is believed to be behind up to 70 per cent of all illegal drug trafficked into Australia over the past 20 years.

In early June, Australian financial crimes watchdog AUSTRAC announced it was widening a probe into Crown Resorts after it found potential breaches of anti-money laundering laws at its Perth casino.

Last October, AUSTRAC revealed that it was formally investigating Crown over “non-compliance” with anti-money laundering laws at its flagship Melbourne casino, relating to the due diligence it conducted on high-roller patrons.

The James Packer-backed company has said that AUSTRAC has now identified “potential serious non-compliance” with anti-money laundering laws at its smaller Perth casino.

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