This week has seen the discovery of over a tonne of precursor drugs potentially worth $650m and 92kg of cocaine worth $30m in what authorities hope will be “disruptive” to the drug trade, but may just be an indicator of Australia’s drug problem.
Cocaine in the cargo
Police and border protection agencies say they have significantly disrupted an international criminal syndicate allegedly involved in the importation of illicit drugs into Victoria.
Seven men were arrested in Melbourne for their alleged role in attempting to import approximately 92kg of cocaine earlier this week. The drugs have an estimated street value of $30 million. Approximately $580,000 cash was also seized by police as part of the operation.
The operation was conducted by investigators from the Trident Taskforce, who have been investigating an international criminal syndicate for more than a year.
On Monday evening (26 June 2017), a cargo vessel arrived at the Port of Melbourne. The sea cargo container was taken to the Melbourne container examination facility where three suspicious black duffle bags were found concealed in a container from Panama.
Inside each of the bags were 26 blocks. The substance concealed within the blocks returned a positive result for cocaine.
Tactical officers from the Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police assisted Taskforce Trident investigators as they executed a number of search warrants across Melbourne. Seven men were arrested at various locations, of whom three were foreign nationals.
The men have been charged with a number of offences related to the importation and attempted possession of commercial quantities of a border controlled drugs, and also money laundering offences.
In the same week, an investigation into a threat by bikies has resulted in the largest seizure of ephedrine on record and the arrest of a drug supply syndicate during a multi-agency operation in NSW and ACT.
Detectives from the State Crime Command’s Gangs Squad commenced an investigation in December 2016 following reports of an extortion involving members of the Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang (OMCG).
Their inquiries revealed a significant drug supply network, which included OMCG and other criminal groups planning large-scale importation of border controlled drugs.
As a result of further investigations, a shipping container was intercepted at Port Botany last Saturday (24 June 2017). The consignment was examined and 1.4 tonnes of ephedrine was located concealed in buckets labelled as sea salt.
This is the largest ephedrine seizure on record and the biggest seizure of precursor chemicals at the Australian border. It is estimated the amount of ephedrine could make up to 1.3 tonnes of ice, with an estimated potential street value of $650 million.
Police officers executed 28 simultaneous search warrants at properties at Kurrajong, Glenwood, Londonderry, Cabramatta, Canley Vale, Georges Hall, Merrylands, Minchinbury, Seven Hills, Fairfield, and Penrith, and Forde, ACT.
A clandestine laboratory was located at the Georges Hall address. During the warrants, officers seized five handguns, 6kg of ice, 10kg of ephedrine, a portable clandestine laboratory, and more than $2 million cash.
Investigators arrested 12 men – aged between 23 and 44 – who were taken to local police stations.
Acting ABF Commissioner Michael Outram said the seizure meant that 13 million individual hits of ice would now be destroyed.
“The 1.4 tonnes of ephedrine was seized before it crossed our border, before it could be used to make 1.3 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine and before it could make its way into the community.”
In the past six months alone, Australian law enforcement agencies are said to have set new records for the seizures of cocaine, ice and ephedrine.
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