241 kg of illicit drugs seized as police shut down global importation ring

The total estimated street value of the cocaine in the three seizures across both countries is $68,575,000.

Two men have faced court yesterday over their alleged involvement in a transnational crime syndicate that imported 211kg of cocaine and 30kg of ketamine into Sydney.

The men, 39, and 23 appeared in Downing Centre Local Court today (10 July, 2024) to answer charges of attempting to import commercial quantities of border controlled drugs.

Operation Drake began in December 2022 after the AFP received intelligence about a criminal syndicate allegedly importing cocaine concealed inside refrigerated commercial shipping containers.

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The AFP and the NSWPF Organised Crime Squad began an investigation and in 2023, identified a Mascot man, 39, suspected of being a facilitator for the criminal network, with intelligence suggesting he was coordinating the drug imports into Australia.  

Image: 241kg of illicit drugs seized (Source: AFP)

AFP Commander Kate Ferry said these illicit drugs caused psychological, financial and social harm to users, those around them and the broader community.

 “These seizures demonstrate the importance of collaboration between law enforcement – the AFP is working tirelessly with partners to disrupt attempts by organised crime to import large quantities of illicit drugs into Australia and profit at the expense and health of our community,” Commander Ferry said.

“Ketamine specifically is a dangerous sedative; its dissociative effects block sensory brain signals and can cause memory loss, feelings of being detached from one’s body and the inability to perceive dangers.”

“Investigations like these show the resolve of our people in making Australia a hostile environment for organised crime.”

Director of State Crime Command, Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Weinstein said this is another great example of the NSWPF working closely with partner agencies to focus on the supply chain, both here and abroad.

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“The seizure not only shows our capabilities to identify and detect illicit drugs, but it also gives a snapshot into how real the problem is,” Det Ch Supt Weinstein said.

“We remain committed to working alongside our partner agencies in the fight against drugs – and will continue to pool intelligence and resources like this to stop the importation and large-scale supply of drugs which continue to plague our community.”

Image: 241kg of illicit drugs seized (Source: AFP)

ABF Acting Commander Graeme Campbell said the ABF works incredibly closely with law enforcement partners to stem the flow of dangerous illegal substances into Australian communities.

“Our officers are highly trained, with skills and expertise regarding cargo and the international supply chain, which is invaluable in disrupting transnational crime networks,” Acting Commander Campbell said.

“These significant detections and subsequent arrests are a tangible example of the cooperation of law enforcement agencies towards a common goal, to outsmart criminal syndicates and their illicit drug operations.”

Police obtained evidence which linked the Mascot man to the planned importation of 50kg of cocaine concealed in a refrigerated shipping container.

The AFP alerted the New Zealand Customs Service (NZCS), resulting in the NZCS seizing 50kg of cocaine in April, 2023, concealed within a shipping container destined for Australia.

In October 2023, ABF officers located two black duffel bags containing another 50kg of cocaine hidden inside a shipment of plastic furniture.

The AFP will allege the Mascot man was responsible for coordinating the importation of the 50kg of cocaine from South America. A third drug importation was allegedly orchestrated by the man when ABF officers in Port Melbourne, Victoria, intercepted 111kg of cocaine in four duffle bags inside a container which arrived into the port.

The total estimated street value of the cocaine in the three seizures across both countries is $68,575,000.

Image: 241kg of illicit drugs seized (Source: AFP)

In March, 2024, police obtained information suggesting the Mascot man was facilitating a fourth importation attempt. The information linked the man to 30kg of ketamine concealed within three commercial vehicles imported from overseas.

Investigators identified a bulk cargo carrier transporting three new vehicles believed to contain the drugs. ABF officers examined the vehicles on the vessel and found drugs concealed under the vehicle’s seats.

The AFP seized 30kg of ketamine and replaced it with a harmless substance. This amount of ketamine has an estimated wholesale value of $7.35 million.

Investigators conducted a controlled delivery of the drugs inside a van to a public carpark in Maroubra.

It will be alleged the Mascot man contacted a man from the north-western Sydney suburb of Angus, 23, to collect the drugs from the vehicle.

Image: 241kg of illicit drugs seized (Source: AFP)

AFP officers arrested the Angus man when he accessed the vehicle, allegedly finding three communications devices inside the vehicle he had driven to the drop-off location.

A simultaneous search warrant was executed at the Mascot man’s apartment, where police arrested the man while he was in possession of a dedicated encrypted communications device.

Police also seized $37,000 in currency and additional mobile phones, which are the subject of further forensic examination.

The Mascot man was charged with four counts of attempt to import a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, contrary to sections 307.1(1) and 11.1(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

The 23-year-old Angus man was charged with one count of attempt to possess a commercial quantity of unlawfully imported border-controlled drug, contrary to section 307.5, and 11.1(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

The offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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