Police will allege the leaders of a childcare business used phantom children to defraud millions of dollars so they could fund a luxury lifestyle.
A Melbourne businesswoman is among five people accused of being part of a group that allegedly defrauded millions of dollars in child care subsidies and COVID-19 stimulus package payments.
The quintet were charged after more than 120 Australian Federal Police (AFP) members and 110 officials raided 10 properties across eight suburbs in Victoria and New South Wales on Wednesday.
Melbourne businesswoman Ola Ouda, 42, from Doncaster East and her partner Amjad Shehada, 46, are alleged to be the leaders of the syndicate.
They have been charged with fraud offences including dishonesty charges and conspiracy to cause a loss to the Commonwealth.
Ms Ouda owns Prime Family Day Care, in Thomastown, which claims the most federal government payments in Australia.
AFP Commander of Investigations Todd Hunter said it would be alleged the two main co-accused swindled money from taxpayers to fund luxurious lifestyles.
“Money that belongs in the hands of our community, to help care for some of our most vulnerable, we allege has instead been used to foot the bill for an extensive real estate portfolio, spent on properties both here in Melbourne and overseas, along with a number of luxurious holidays,” he said.
A third person — a 39-year-old senior office employee from Epping — has also been charged with the same offences as Ms Ouda and Mr Shehada.
All three will appear in court on June 9.
Two other daycare educators from Roxburgh Park have also been charged.
Operation Iris-Ayton — led by the AFP — began investigating in December last year.
Detectives are now working to determine how much of $15 million in taxpayer-funded payments received by the alleged syndicate is legitimate.
The money collected by the group includes more than $2.4 million in COVID-19 related stimulus payments for a number of Melbourne commercial businesses owned by the alleged leaders.
More than 70 Melbourne family day care educators and parents were spoken to on Wednesday and police say a number are considered persons of interest connected to the network.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said there would be concerns surrounding the care any children received.
“The number one target was the defrauding of the Commonwealth but there would be concerns around what type of education and care is being provided to children while these alleged criminal networks are seeking to defraud the Commonwealth,” he reporters.
He said $3.1 billion had been saved as a result of the crackdown and investigations into any suspicious criminal activity would continue.
“Sadly, there will always be people who want to exploit the Australian taxpayer so we will seek to always be investigating and making sure that we have got the resources to ensure this is not occurring.”
The AFP investigation was in conjunction with Services Australia, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) and assistance from the Victorian Department of Education and Training.