Cash was seized and Chinese passports found during the raid.
Cash was seized and Chinese passports found during the raid.

Fly in beggars from China scamming Aussies

They've been earning hundreds of dollars a day begging on major CBD intersections. But these fly-in beggars from China were part of an organised crime ring that's been scamming Melburnians, police claim.

Elderly fake beggars have each been earning hundreds of dollars a day and sending the cash back to China electronically in the scam.

The culprits use begging bowls and money pouches, with their normal clothes hidden under specially-made "street" garments. Key CBD intersections have been targeted, including the corners of Elizabeth, Swanston, Flinders and Bourke streets.

It is believed the fly-in vagrants are being put up in inner city hostels and pass the cash they collect on the streets to "handlers".

Busy intersections were key targets of the beggars, who were caught up in this raid. Picture: Jason Edwards
Busy intersections were key targets of the beggars, who were caught up in this raid. Picture: Jason Edwards

 

Authorities understand a crime ring is organising passports and tourist visas in China, and then flying the beggars in for short stints working the streets.

Police are working with the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force to gather more intelligence on the scam, including movements through airports.

A joint Victoria Police and City of Melbourne operation this week resulted in several people with Chinese passports being charged on summons with begging and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

Council compliance officers also issued a number of notices for footpath obstruction.

Under Operation Aquim, the beggars were released after being interviewed, but some returned to the streets and were dealt with again.

Two suspected handlers, also Chinese nationals, were observed liaising with the beggars. Their details were recorded and passed on to federal authorities for further investigation and action.

Undercover police seized almost $1000 in cash from the professional beggars, with some of the money secreted in clothing and other items.

It’s believed the fly-in vagrants handed money collected on the streets to handlers. Picture: Jason Edwards
It’s believed the fly-in vagrants handed money collected on the streets to handlers. Picture: Jason Edwards

 

Sgt Chris O'Brien, of Melbourne East police station, said all of the beggars explained through an interpreter that they were destitute.

"They all had a reasonably consistent script in terms of 'I'm homeless, I'm living on the streets'," he said.

"We believe it's an organised group who are coming to Melbourne to prey on local residents and their sympathies."

INSIDE THE POLICE BUST THAT ENDED CHINESE BEGGING RING

Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said he had personally been confronted with the "extreme form of begging".

"It was unlike anything I've seen on Melbourne streets before, particularly the 'head down on pavement' right in the middle of intersections," he said.

"Something just didn't seem right, and that's proven to be true with this joint ­operation between the police and council."

One of the beggars outside the Young and Jackson hotel on Flinders St. Picture: Jason Edwards
One of the beggars outside the Young and Jackson hotel on Flinders St. Picture: Jason Edwards

 

Cr Wood said while these professional beggars clearly had precarious circumstances, it was crucial to stamp out their illegal activity.

"Melbourne shows a good deal of compassion and good will to those less fortunate, but this type of professional begging takes advantage of that situation," he said.

"We need to move quickly on any crime of this nature - both for those people giving their money thinking it's going to those who are struggling, and also for those people caught up in this sort of begging."

Sgt O'Brien said the Chinese beggars arrested this week were offered support services from the Salvation Army, but only one took up the offer.

"They were crying poor after we took the money, saying 'Oh, we need the money to get back to China, we need to fly home'," he said.

"It's quite an investment involved in flying people out of China to do this. At what point have they made their money, and then what?"

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INSIDE THE POLICE BUST THAT ENDED CHINESE BEGGING RING

Salvation Army Project 614 director Major Brendan Nottle, who has worked out of the Salvos' Bourke St centre for 17 years, said it was very rare to see people of Asian appearance begging in the CBD.

"Our concern is for people like this who have been taken advantage of, and providing support for them to ensure that they're safe," he said.

"We are also concerned about what appears to be an organised operation where very generous Melburnians are being taken advantage of."

Maj Nottle said only one of the Chinese beggars had accepted help from the Salvos, a woman who took shelter from the cold.

"But each of them asked us to organise a ticket for them to return to China," he said.

john.masanauskas@news.com.au

@JMasanauskas

One of the women begging in Melbourne’s CBD. Picture: Jason Edwards
One of the women begging in Melbourne’s CBD. Picture: Jason Edwards
Police seized hundreds of dollars during the operation. Picture: Jason Edwards
Police seized hundreds of dollars during the operation. Picture: Jason Edwards
Police found Chinese passports on the beggars. Picture: Jason Edwards
Police found Chinese passports on the beggars. Picture: Jason Edwards
The Chinese beggars arrested this week were offered support services. Picture: Jason Edwards
The Chinese beggars arrested this week were offered support services. Picture: Jason Edwards


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