UP TO two dozen illegal handguns - including some bought by Sydney crime gangs - passed through Port Botany after customs officers falsified paperwork to wrongly claim they had X-rayed the container in which the weapons were hidden.
A six-month Fairfax Media investigation - conducted in association with the ABC's 7.30 Report - can also reveal that customs is investigating about 100 criminal allegations involving its staff - the highest number in the agency's history - and has received more than 1300 allegations of misconduct since 2008.
It has also emerged that acting Customs Service CEO Michael Pezzullo was frozen out of parts of the federal police's probe into corruption at Sydney Airport because his brother, a customs officer, works and associates with several members of the allegedly corrupt customs airport cell.
■Dozens of pages of sensitive customs documents were leaked to a crime syndicate controlled by drug and illegal tobacco smuggler Mohamad Jomaa, who ran a syndicate that boasted of having several contacts inside customs.
■A joint police taskforce has identified up to 12 suspected corrupt customs officials working on NSW's maritime border security, adding to the cell of 15 allegedly corrupt officers at Sydney Airport, including some still working there.
■Employees of Menzies Aviation Services with federal government security clearances are being investigated over their links to alleged drug trafficking within customs. Menzies provides baggage handling services at the airport.
The smuggled handguns were identified by a police operation codenamed Otford, which discovered that the guns were smuggled in engine parts that a small number of customs officers falsely claimed they had scanned. Further investigations found that the officers falsified paperwork to give the engine parts the all-clear.
While the customs officers were caught lying about their failure to scan the container, there is no evidence they knew it contained guns.
It is unclear if any of the smuggled guns, which included four semi-automatic pistols recovered by police, were used in any of Sydney's spate of gangland killings.
Customs has dealt with the case as a matter of misconduct and incompetence and said in a statement that the officers involved had been subject to "code of conduct provisions" and in October "received remedial training and workplace counselling".
However, senior NSW police are believed to have been furious about customs' role in the affair, especially after it followed a string of so-called "misdetections" by customs staff of drug shipments.
Regarding the ongoing airport probe, there is no suggestion that Mr Pezzullo's brother is involved in corruption. (Fairfax made several attempts to contact Mr Pezzullo's brother but was not successful.)
One of the aspects of the probe is whether customs staff not involved in corruption nevertheless knew that some of their colleagues may have had inappropriate associations or may have been engaged in questionable behaviour in or outside of work hours. At least four customs officers still working at Sydney Airport attended the court case of an allegedly drug-using officer without informing their bosses.
Asked about his brother's relationship with suspected corrupt customs officials, Mr Pezzullo said: "I was advised by the previous CEO that I was to be excluded from all briefings and information related to allegations concerning possible corrupt activities at Sydney Airport on the basis that I had a family member who worked at the airport."
Of the suspected corrupt customs officers on the waterfront identified by the joint-agency Polaris taskforce, several are suspected to be involved in facilitating illegal tobacco or drug importations.
A confidential Polaris report from this year states that the Customs Examination Facility at Port Botany has been "infiltrated" by criminals.
"Polaris investigations demonstrate links between CEF staff [including customs officers] and criminal syndicates which are involved in the importation of illicit drugs and tobacco into Australia," it says.
One of the customs officials suspected to be aiding maritime drug and tobacco importations was allowed access to highly sensitive information despite having two brothers known to NSW police as drug traffickers.
This officer was also one of at least two customs staff with strong ties to a crime syndicate led by convicted drug trafficker Mohamad Jomaa, as well as to two alleged tobacco smugglers who are currently before court and are facing charges of bribing a third customs official.
Asked about the suspected corrupt customs officer with links to Mohamad Jomaa, Mr Pezzullo told Fairfax that he "chose to resign while customs … was making an assessment of his suitability to continue to hold a security clearance".
And thanks to reader Jim for the tip and this commentary on Jason Clare's performance on ABC's 7.30 last night.
Chris Uhlmann hammered Clare of his neglect and asked him why nothing had been done depite numerous reports warning of the fiasco. The irony is that similar questions could have been asked of him about the PM’s involvement in the AWU fraud and the shameful series of cover-ups and he would have been force into embarrassing denials and blather. Australian Customs have been plagued with allegations of corruption for decades. It is also a mistake to single Customs out. Customs works cheek by jowl with other federal and state law enforcement agencies and there is no way as yet to measure how far the contamination has spread. One danger is the influence of unions, especially the CPSU in neutralising attempts to rid Customs of its crooks through wholesale sackings which must include incompetent or incapable managers and senior executives; and not just the few low level scapegoats. When you have a tainted PM there is no will emanating from the very top of the nation to stamp out the evil of organised crime capturing or infecting law enforcement. Until the election the nation needs anyone but Julia “I have decided to take control” Gillard as Prime Minister. She must be ousted by the appalling weaklings in Caucus.