By Swati Pandey
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police have arrested two men on suspicion of moving tens of millions of dollars of illicit drug money through a Sydney-based "daigou", a surrogate shopping business popular with Chinese.
Investigators are looking into whether the daigou operators were aware that they might have been helping money-laundering organisations move "dirty money" offshore, the Australian Federal Police said in a statement on Wednesday.
There are tens of thousands of daigou in Australia that use social media and mobile payment apps to buy goods on behalf of customers in China.
While daigou first made waves in the West shipping luxuries from Europe like Gucci handbags, the Australia operators mostly deal in "white gold" - baby milk formula - and other consumer staples.
So popular is the trend that a specialist daigou retailer, AuMake, listed on the Australian stock exchange about three years ago.
Police did not identify any businesses in their statement.
Daigou are cash-intensive export driven businesses, making them an easy target for money-laundering operations and allowing criminals to transfer dirty proceeds offshore without using Australian bank accounts, police said.
Police said they suspected the two Sydney men had funnelled millions of dollars from the sale of drugs through the daigou business on behalf of their criminal clients.
Police arrested one of the men, 37, on Monday as he delivered A$1 million in cash in cooler bags to the daigou business in the western suburb of Auburn.
The second man, 40, is allegedly the Sydney-based "coordinator" of the overseas money-laundering enterprise.
The pair have been charged with dealing with proceeds of crime, which carry a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.
(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Robert Birsel)