Woman arrested over alleged PNG drug smuggling plot

Photo: Australia Federal Police

A Chinese woman arrested over an alleged $15 million drug smuggling plot has been associated with businesses that have reportedly received payments from an Australian government-funded refugee programme in Papua New Guinea.

The arrest of Company Director, Mei Lin, in Brisbane last week has raised concerns in PNG government circles due to her links to business interests associated with political figures, including former Deputy Prime Minister, Moses Maladina.

Lin, 41, who is reported to have Australian residency, was refused bail over her alleged involvement in the attempt to smuggle 71.5kg of methamphetamine into Australia in March last year.

More than a dozen people have already been arrested in connection with a plot that allegedly involved bags of methamphetamine loaded onto a light plane in PNG and flown into central Queensland.

The plane was intercepted by Australian Federal Police after landing at Monto, about 200 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, on 21 March.

Lin was charged with one count of importing a commercial quantity of methamphetamine and one count of dealing with the proceeds of crime, money or property worth $10,000 or more, the AFP said in a media release last week.

A Chinese-PNG citizen, Lin is a prominent business identity in PNG and is listed as a director and shareholder of numerous successful companies in PNG.

Some of her companies have been involved in nightclubs and real estate in the northern city of Lae and in the capital Port Moresby.

Sources within PNG’s immigration department have claimed Lin is or has been associated with business interests or companies that have received payments out of refugee resettlement funds provided by the Australian government.

The funds were provided by Australia under a 2021 agreement that saw tens of millions of dollars handed over to run what was called the PNG Humanitarian Programme – a scheme designed to support refugees who had been relocated from Manus Island.

The money was used to help provide accommodation, food, medical services and other essentials for the dozens of refugees who remained in the country.

One of the companies providing some services is Chatswood PNG Ltd, which is the family company of Maladina.

Maladina confirmed to the ABC on Saturday that Lin had been “employed in our property division for a period of about two months”.

But Maladina said Lin was not associated with Chatswood and that “Chatswood and its directors are not in any way associated with the activities of Mei Lin”.

The ABC does not suggest Maladina, or his business interests have any involvement in the drug plot or have acted inappropriately.

Searches of PNG’s Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) company register listed Lin as being a director of a company called ABC Enterprise Limited in 2022, up until March 2023.

This company was previously named PNG Humanitarian Programme Limited and had listed Maladina as a director in the IPA register.

However, a concerned Maladina told the ABC he had “no knowledge of ABC Enterprise Limited’s existence despite the fact my name may appear as a director”.

“If that company (ABC Enterprise Limited) was used for the purposes of the PHP (PNG Humanitarian Programme) then I can only assume it was done with the full knowledge of the ICA (PNG Immigration and Citizenship Authority) and Australia’s Department of Home Affairs,” he said.

Maladina said the IPA records would “clearly show” he had not consented to be a director of ABC Enterprise Limited.

“Unfortunately for me, this could have been a legacy of my involvement with the creation of the initial entity PNG Humanitarian Programme and my name was not deleted as a director,” he said.

“As to how my name is listed as a director is a mystery to me. Normal process would be to fill out a consent form to be a director of a company, and that would be filed in the IPA records. I definitely had not consented.”

Maladina said the structure of the refugee programme was set up and approved by the Australian government through PNG’s ICA.

Maladina said his family investment company Chatswood was not a contractor for the programme, but one of a number of service providers which, like others, was paid for services rendered to the programme.

Maladina said the humanitarian programme “had been successful under Chatswood’s watch”.

“Since Chatswood’s engagement the number of cohorts [refugees] in PNG have substantially reduced as a result of being successfully moved to third countries like New Zealand, USA and Canada, or settlement in PNG,” he said.

“This is mainly due to Chatswood’s efforts.”

The ABC is aware of two other companies that had associations with Lin and were reported by sources to have been involved in providing services to refugees.

One company appears to have been involved in providing security services, according to sources.

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs has been contacted for comment with a spokesperson saying it needed more time to respond.

Previously, the department said it paid a substantial sum to PNG to take over “full and independent management” of the living arrangements of the refugees under a confidential bilateral agreement signed in December 2021.

While it’s not clear how much was paid to PNG by Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, it came out of a larger $303 million “offshore management” budget.

The ABC understands the PNG government is aware of Lin’s arrest, with it being discussed on government WhatsApp threads.

The AFP last week released imagery of its agents undertaking a search of Lin’s property at Rochedale, in Brisbane’s outer suburbs.

Lin and Liming Lin are recorded as having bought the acreage property featuring a covered pool for about $3 million in March 2022, according to real estate sales records held by RP Data.

Lin was denied bail and is to reappear in court on 01 March.