The construction industry in Australia has been rocked by news of police raids on several properties around the country regarding what is alleged to be a sophisticated money laundering syndicate that exploits illegal workers and is believed to have links to the building sector.

A number of properties in Western Australia and Victoria have been raided over the past week as part of a four-year investigation into what is believed to be an international syndicate involved in primary produce, construction and the entertainment industry (including nightclubs and karaoke bars), according to media reports, with police seizing firearms and computers as well as detaining dozens of foreign workers at a gated market-garden compound at Carabooda on the northern fringe of Perth.

Describing their exploitation as a ‘human tragedy’ WA Police state crime assistant commissioner Craig Ward said the workers were living on the premises’ in sub-standard conditions and being paid below the award wage.

“These are people who are put through conditions that we wouldn’t accept,” he is quoted as saying on Australian Associated Press.

As of Monday, thirty-two charges had been laid against nineteen people following last weekends raids, including three Western Australian brothers believed to be leaders of the syndicate.

All up, 130 foreign nationals have been detained over the course of the investigation, including 70 from the Carabooda property.

Police say the group operates in a number of states and also overseas and that a complex web of money laundering and tax avoidance involving many companies is involved.

“These people are sophisticated” Australian federal police assistant commissioner Ramzi Jabbour said.

“They do receive advice from professional entities such as lawyers, accountants and the like for the specific purpose of avoiding and evading law enforcement.”