SECURITY issues have been exposed in Australia’s wool supply chain as a sophisticated wool tampering operation has been uncovered in Melbourne.
Victorian Police are investigating after a number of wool brokers reported cases of their wool being tampered with since May this year.
Police allege 16 bales of high quality, Merino fleece had been removed from bales and substituted with crossbred, sweepings and contaminated black wool.
The wool was then exported to China, where buyers discovered the bales had been replaced with inferior wool.
“… From the period of (bales) being loaded onto a truck and taken to the docks – to be loaded into containers and put into a ship to travel to china - the wool has been transferred and replaced with inferior wool,” Detective Inspector Jamie Templeton said.
The thefts were valued at tens of thousands of dollars, with individual bales worth up to $3000.
“It might be two or three people working together that have orchestrated this crime,” Inspector Templeton said.
“I suspect they have some experience in (the industry) to know what they are doing.
“What I believe is the wool stolen has been subsequently sold to another wool broker, potentially re-baled and purported to be from another woolgrower. As far as that person purchasing wouldn’t know any different – just high quality, honestly obtained wool.”
The alleged crime involved six separate companies which handled wool, being wool sellers, brokers and exporters. Inspector Templeton said the investigation aimed to identify some “nexus and commonality” in the four separate transactions.
The scandal has exposed security issues for the Australian wool supply chain during a time of record high prices.
“This is not only due to the total value of the wool stolen but also the potential damage it poses to the Australian export industry,” Inspector Templeton said.
“These thefts are incredibly damaging to the livelihood and reputations of the brokers who export this product.”
China, Australia’s major wool market, purchased 75pc of the national clip sold at auction last season.
The wool tampering scandal follows a crackdown on product labelling issues in China which has seen six Australian companies hit with meat export bans.
Inspector Templeton said suggestions would be made to industry to address security concerns in the wool handling and export system.
“We will make recommendations but from within, they are already learning from what has happened in this situation so far,” he said.
“There are a number of legislative reforms that I would like to work through in terms of when we buy and sell wool to a local broker and how that process works. There is a cash market there.”
However, Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors executive director Peter Morgan said the integrity of Australia’s wool handling and export chain was sound.
“When you consider we sell somewhere around 1.9 million bales (per year), it is only a small amount,” Mr Morgan said.
“When prices are at this level, unfortunately unscrupulous things happen from time to time. These people will find they have no future in the industry if they are caught.”
Anyone with information is urged to phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.