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    Today @ 05:08 PM

    Police allege 'professional beggars' flown from China to Melbourne CBD

    Police have charged seven people over an alleged "professional begging" operation in which elderly Chinese people were flown to Melbourne on tourist visas to target passers-by in the CBD.

    The group have been charged with begging and possessing property suspected of being the proceeds of crime
    Police said some of the people charged had recently converted Australian dollars into Chinese Yuan
    Australian Federal Police and the Australian Border Force have joined the investigation

    Officers charged a group of six Chinese nationals with begging and possessing property suspected of being the proceeds of crime during a targeted operation in the city centre on Monday and Tuesday.

    Acting Inspector John Travaglini described a seventh man charged with the same offences as a "Caucasian male" but did not specify his nationality or any role he may have played in the operation.

    Begging or gathering alms is a crime in Victoria which can carry a penalty of one year in jail.

    Acting Inspector Travaglini said those charged were claiming to be homeless but officers later discovered they had access to shared housing in the CBD.

    He confirmed the alleged offenders were in Australia on tourist visas and a number of them had recently transferred Australian dollars into Chinese yuan.

    Inspector Travaglini said while all begging was illegal, the false claims of homelessness were "deceitful" and concerning.

    Mayor 'gobsmacked' by organised begging

    Melbourne's Lord Mayor, Sally Capp, said she was "gobsmacked" at the suggestion that beggars were being flown in from China on tourist visas to collect money in the CBD.

    "I think it's clear now that they are part of an organised system but that many of those people are really quite vulnerable themselves and they've been pulled into this situation," she said.

    "We face this complexity of people at their most vulnerable but needing to be able to take strong action and the right action to actually make a difference."

    Ms Capp said she hoped the operation would highlight the illegality of begging and discourage well-meaning people from giving money to beggars.

    "It's a really hard message to get out to caring Melburnians to say 'please do not give to beggars'," she said.

    She urged people concerned about a homeless person to direct them to specialised support services instead of offering them cash.
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