Two members of a Melbourne-based criminal syndicate, including a man already serving a term of imprisonment, have been sentenced for importing illicit drugs into Australia after their criminal activities were detected during an AFP investigation.
A man, 33, and a woman, 29, faced the County Court of Victoria today (Friday 24 February 2023) and were sentenced to effective terms of 22 years and 13 years imprisonment respectively for their roles in running a transnational organised crime syndicate from prison and importing $55 million worth of illicit drugs into Australia.
The AFP investigation – known as Operation Fuji – was launched in November 2021 and conducted complementary to and with the assistance of Victoria Police and Commonwealth partners.
The investigation saw AFP officers shut down the criminal syndicate’s operations after catching the Barwon Prison inmate, a known Melbourne crime identity, attempting to plan and coordinate illicit drug importations over the phone with a Mickleham woman, 29, who was also his partner.
AFP detectives told the court the inmate, 33, was the criminal syndicate’s ringleader and was unaware his phone conversations with the Mickleham woman were being monitored by the AFP.
The inmate had been using a prison phone to call the Mickleham woman under the guise of speaking to his legal team. The man spoke to his partner in coded language to plan illicit drug importations into Victoria.
Operation Fuji commenced following the seizure of 400 kilograms of methamphetamine in Malaysia on 31 August 2021.
AFP investigators identified the Mickleham woman as a member of the criminal syndicate and began monitoring her phone calls discussing the pending arrival of the border-controlled drugs into Australia through coded conversations with the inmate.
In February 2022, AFP Detectives tracked the syndicate members to the attempted importation of 69 kilograms of illicit drugs (56kgs of methamphetamine and 13kgs of heroin) concealed in tea inside a consignment from Thailand to Melbourne.
In April 2022, the AFP executed search warrants in the Melbourne suburbs of Mickleham, Taylors Hill, Essendon and Greenvale.
The woman was arrested at her Mickleham home, while the man was charged by AFP officers at Barwon Prison.
A number of mobile phones were seized during the search warrants, along with luxury items including jewellery, watches, a custom Harley-Davidson, a Mercedes G-Wagon and a Kawasaki jet ski.
In January 2023, the pair each pleaded guilty to importing border-controlled drugs, namely heroin and methamphetamine, and the quantity imported being a commercial quantity, contrary to s307.1(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
The man, who remains in prison, was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for each of the two charges he faced, with 14 years to be served concurrently and four years cumulatively, creating an effective term of 22 years imprisonment.
The majority of the sentence will be served concurrently with his current term of imprisonment however he was ordered to serve six years’ cumulatively, meaning his first eligible date for release will now be in 2049 instead of 2044.
The Mickleham woman was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for each of the two charges she faced, with nine years to be served concurrently and two cumulatively, creating an effective term of 13 years imprisonment. She will be eligible for parole in 2029.
The sentence is scheduled to be formalised at another hearing on Thursday, 2 March.
AFP Detective Superintendent Anthony Hall said that Operation Fuji was a true example of the AFP’s commitment to partnership policing to inflict maximum damage to organised crime in Australia.
“This investigation proves that the AFP is succeeding in targeting and outsmarting the highest levels of organised crime,” he said.
“Throughout this investigation, AFP detectives skilfully adapted to the techniques employed by this criminal syndicate, achieving the collection of overwhelming evidence of their attempts to coordinate the importation of harmful illicit drugs into our country and significantly contribute to the abhorrent harm being inflicted on the Australian community.”
“Our warning to all people involved in transnational organised crime groups attempting to import illicit drugs into Australia is clear: your actions show complete disregard for Australia and our laws.
“By doing so, you are severely impacting the health and well-being of Australians and our support services.
“The AFP will continue to target, identify and affect maximum damage to you and your organised crime business model – whether behind bars or not – you will be brought to justice and any assets you accumulate from your crime will be confiscated,” Det. Supt. Hall said.
To date, more than $20 million in criminal assets have been restrained via a court order by the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce as a result of Operation Fuji.
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