Five men allegedly connected to 188-kilograms of cocaine seized by Australian authorities in 2019 have been arrested, with a sixth man to be served a court attendance notice in prison after an extensive international multi-agency investigation.
The men are being questioned by police after being taken into custody during a series of coordinated pre-dawn search warrants in New South Wales today (Tuesday).
Police will allege the men are part of a transnational criminal syndicate that intended to distribute the cocaine throughout Australia after it was supplied by a Mexican drug cartel hidden in a shipment of aluminium alloy ingots.
This amount of cocaine has an estimated street value up to $47 million, with the potential to provide up to 940,000 individual street deals of cocaine. The investigation was launched in February 2019 after Australian Border Force (ABF) officers at a Sydney Container Examination Facility found anomalies in a bulk metal consignment sent from Mexico.
Cocaine was hidden in aluminium ingots
Their examination allegedly identified blocks of white powder concealed in well-constructed, hollowed-out sections of 188 of the 1,890 aluminium ingots stacked on the pallets.
Subsequent Australian Federal Police forensic analysis revealed the substance was high-purity cocaine, with a total weight of approximately 188 kilograms. The subsequent joint investigation into the shipment combined the resources of various enforcement authorities within Australia, as well as the assistance of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
In December 2020, an air cargo consignment from India – which was declared to contain vehicle parts – was examined by ABF officers, who discovered nearly 50kg of powder concealed within the items.
The powder was tested and returned a presumptive positive result for ephedrine. Following inquiries, two men – aged 39 and 49 – were arrested and subsequent search warrants resulted in the seizure of 50kg of iodine.
Drug-producing chemicals also seized
The iodine and ephedrine seized during the operation has the potential to produce 38kg of methamphetamine, with an estimated potential street value of $9.5-million. The men remain before court for these matters.
The 49-year-old man charged during this December operation is alleged to be part of the wider syndicate also involved in the 188-kilogram cocaine seizure. He is expected to be served a court attendance notice in jail linked to today’s police activity.
This morning, search warrants were executed across NSW various suburbs and officers seized cash, various jewellery, multiple electronic devices and approximately 80 ingots from the cocaine shipment stored at a warehouse.
Five men were arrested, alleged to be part of the Australian syndicate linked to the 188-kilograms of cocaine seized.
An extensive evidence-gathering process
Police were able to arrest these men now due to the continued investigation into the criminal syndicate in Australia and the extensive evidence-gathering process which now allows these charges to be brought before court.
According to a statement released by the AFP, it will be alleged the Australian syndicate set up a company in NSW that had a similar name and corporate identity to a legitimate European company in an attempt to avoid law enforcement scrutiny of the illicit importation.
AFP Commander Kirsty Schofield described the arrests as a significant win in the fight against the illicit drug trade.
“Transnational organised crime networks pose a significant threat to Australia’s economy, our security and our way of life,” Schofield said. “They see Australia as a lucrative market to target because of the high demand for drugs and the high prices users will pay.”