A high-ranking member of the Comanchero bikie gang has successfully left the country, overcoming police efforts to keep him under control in NSW.
Tarek Zahed, the national sergeant-at-arms of the Comanchero, managed to travel to the Middle East despite COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions that are preventing thousands of Australians from travelling overseas.
In August, the Australian Border Force approved 21,337 requests for travel while refusing 12,347. Almost 3000 people seeking exemptions on compassionate grounds were allowed to travel while 4749 were denied.
Mr Zahed was granted an exemption on compassionate grounds and left the country with his wife and child on a Qatar Airways flight bound for Doha shortly after 10pm on Thursday, according to multiple sources. His ultimate destination is said to be Turkey.
Police are sceptical of Mr Zahed’s stated reasons for travelling overseas but ran out of legal avenues to stop him. He has booked return flights although police do not know if he intends to use them.
He is viewed by law enforcement agencies as a key associate of Middle East-based Mark Buddle, allegedly helping the offshore bikie leader maintain his influence in Australia.
Mr Buddle, drug kingpin Hakan Ayik and other offshore targets are thought to be behind a large proportion of illegal drug imports into Australia, organising themselves into an “Aussie Cartel”, earning an estimated $1.5 billion from trafficking every year.
As police escalate their efforts against the overseas-based crime figures, including Mr Buddle and Mr Ayik, they are also targeting their networks that remain onshore.
It will be significantly more difficult for police to monitor and restrict Mr Zahed’s activities while he is out of Australia, sources said.
NSW Police have been pursuing a serious crime prevention order against Mr Zahed, which would dramatically restrict his communications, finances and activities.
In an affidavit tendered to the Supreme Court, a detective in the criminal groups squad alleged Mr Zahed and two other men were likely to be “involved in future conduct which would constitute an offence” involving drug trafficking, theft, fraud, money laundering, violence, bribery, homicide and other crimes.
“That risk is exacerbated by these persons’ long and close involvement with [outlaw motorcycle gangs], compounded by their seniority in their respective gangs and associations with other senior, influential members of those gangs,” the detective said.
Mr Zahed is fighting the crime prevention order application and the matter is scheduled for a full hearing in December.
He contracted COVID-19 in August and four police officers were forced into isolation after they came into contact with his wife and child, who also tested positive, during a search at their inner west home.
Earlier in August, police issued Mr Zahed, his two brothers and an associate with fines for public health order breaches after they were found walking together on the Bay Run in Drummoyne about 2am.
Mr Buddle, who has been living in the Middle East since fleeing Australia in 2016, is believed to have travelled to Iraq from his base in Dubai and is now on the move again.