Sydney airport workers arrested in major drug trafficking ring bust

Each of the five bags seized from the car contained bricks of a white substance, later confirmed through forensic testing to be cocaine

In a significant blow to organised crime, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has cracked down on a major drug trafficking operation, resulting in the arrest of five individuals in Sydney.

The operation unveiled an elaborate scheme involving the importation of approximately 100 kilograms of cocaine from South Africa concealed in the cargo hold of a passenger plane.

The five accused appeared in Parramatta Local Court on Sunday, October 8, 2023, and were remanded in custody, scheduled to reappear on November 30, 2023.

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The alleged mastermind behind the operation, a 42-year-old man from Padstow, is believed to have coordinated with international criminal figures to procure the cocaine, arrange for its placement on an aircraft, and organize its distribution within Australia.

A 62-year-old man from Hillsdale was reportedly responsible for overseeing the activities of two airport employees who facilitated the removal of the cocaine from the aircraft and its subsequent delivery to an associate of the Padstow man.

Two trusted insiders, a 55-year-old from Mascot and a 61-year-old from Coogee, allegedly exploited their positions with access to freight handling operations at Sydney’s international airport. They played a critical role in removing the illicit cargo from the cargo hold of an aircraft that had recently arrived from South Africa.

The operation culminated in the interception of the cocaine-filled bags, which were transferred to a car driven by a 24-year-old Sydney man acting on behalf of the Padstow organizer. All three individuals involved in the handover were arrested shortly thereafter.

Each of the five bags seized from the car contained bricks of a white substance, later confirmed through forensic testing to be cocaine, with each bag containing around 20 kilograms of the illicit drug.

The Hillsdale man was apprehended by AFP members less than two hours later in Coogee, while the Padstow man was arrested at Rushcutter’s Bay later on the same evening.

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The AFP’s Operation Lucian, initiated in October 2022 following a report from an airline regarding suspicious activity near the cargo area of a Johannesburg-bound flight to Sydney, has been instrumental in dismantling this criminal enterprise.

The AFP collaborated closely with the airline, Sydney Airport Corporation, and the Australian Border Force throughout the investigation. The arrested individuals, apprehended in the vicinity of the airport, have been charged with importing a commercial quantity of cocaine and possessing a commercial quantity of cocaine, carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Additionally, the Padstow and Hillsdale men have been charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of cocaine, with the same maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

On October 7, 2023, the AFP executed four search warrants at residences in Coogee, Mascot, and Hillsdale, resulting in the seizure of a small quantity of drugs and several electronic devices.

Detective Superintendent Kristie Cressy of the AFP emphasised the commitment to combatting organised crime syndicates that pose threats to Australia’s national security, economy, and social fabric. She noted the significance of safeguarding Australia’s airports from corruption and abuse by transnational criminal groups, emphasising the potential repercussions on the country’s tourism and trade sectors.

The cocaine haul intercepted in this operation was estimated to have a street value of $40 million, equivalent to 100,000 individual street deals.

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