AUSTRALIA’S second major drug bust in a week, which netted $240 million worth of cocaine and methamphetamine in Sydney, shows the international reach of police work is greater than ever, federal police say.
The 350-kilogram haul had been shipped from China hidden inside a road roller and was being prepared for the local market when police swooped on five premises around Sydney last weekend.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) arrested two foreign nationals over the bust – a 34-year-old Canadian, alleged to be the organiser and financier of the operation, and a 33-year-old US national, also suspected to be a major player in an international crime syndicate targeting Australia.
The syndicate has been the target of an AFP investigation for more than two years, and the agency says more arrests could follow in Australia and overseas.
The AFP says its international co-operation and intelligence efforts are paying off.
“This is the second multi-million-dollar seizure inside a week,” AFP acting national manager for serious and organised crime David Sharpe told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
“In the last five months the AFP and partners have seized in excess of 2.3 tonnes of narcotics.”
Last week, the AFP seized 204 kilograms of cocaine found – along with the body of a crewman – aboard a yacht that ran aground in Tonga.
The AFP was acting on a tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Agency that the suspect vessel had departed Ecuador en route for Australia.
The latest operation, codenamed Pendine, involved a complex investigation launched in July 2010, based on intelligence obtained in Australia that an international organised crime syndicate was planning a major drug importation.
On September 21, the AFP identified a shipping container – carrying a 20-tonne road roller of the type used to compact gravel and bitumen – on a vessel arriving at Port Botany from China.
After the search warrants were executed on Saturday and Sunday, police found the roller inside a storage unit in the northern Sydney suburb of Warriewood.
They also found equipment used to dismantle the machine and 13 sports bags containing compressed blocks of drugs – 235kg of methamphetamine worth an estimated $174 million and 115kg of cocaine worth $63 million. Also seized was $150,000 in cash.
The two men appeared in Sydney Central Local Court on Monday and were remanded in custody.
Both face charges of importing commercial quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine, which carry maximum life imprisonment penalties.
The US national was also charged with dealing in the proceeds of crime.
Assistant Commissioner Sharpe said the AFP’s global network was constantly improving, and organised crime syndicates should be looking over their shoulders.
“This seizure sends a clear message to criminals that no matter how long it takes, how complex or innovative the concealment method, global law enforcement is joining forces to stop the importation of illicit drugs into Australia.” – AAP