The AFP has arrested three members of an alleged Victorian-based crime syndicate, as part of an investigation that resulted in the largest seizure of ketamine in Australia.
The AFP seized 174kg of ketamine, following operational activity in Victoria over the last two days. This amount of ketamine has an estimated wholesale value of $6.9 million.
AFP Detective Superintendent Transnational Serious and Organised Crime Anthony Hall said the AFP was aware of criminal syndicates evolving their methodology in attempt to bring harmful illicit substances into Australia and concealing ketamine within liquid concrete was no exception.
“Ketamine is a dangerous and illicit sedative. Its dissociative effects block sensory brain signals and can cause memory loss, feelings of being detached from one’s body and prevent their ability to perceive danger,” Detective-Superintendent Hall said.
“Unfortunately, in Australia, an average of 40 people are admitted to hospitals every week as a result of experiencing the harm caused by drug use.”*
“This total seizure of about 174kg of ketamine and 25kg of MDMA means significant harm to the community had been prevented, thanks to the work of the police officers in both Australia and those offshore whom have collaborated with AFP through the AFP’s international network.
“Operation Woodgate originated from intelligence shared by the Spanish Guardia Civil with AFP International Command via AFP London Post.
“This highlights the strength in our agency’s international law enforcement partnerships and is one example of our commitment to aggressively creating a hostile environment for transnational serious and organised crime syndicates to operate, no matter where it is in the world.”*
Two men, an Altona man, 37, and a Sunshine North man, 33, are accused of coordinating and facilitating a 80kg ketamine import, along with a third man from Hoppers Crossing, 32, who is accused of attempting to take possession of the illicit drugs.
They were arrested late yesterday (Tuesday 11 July, 2023) in Lara near Geelong, as part of a Transnational Serious and Organised Crime investigation.
The three alleged onshore criminal syndicate members have been charged, in connection to the importation of the 80kg of the border controlled drug, which was hidden inside tubs of liquid cement sent from Spain to Australia.
The investigation – codenamed Operation Woodgate – began in late May, after the AFP’s International Command received intelligence from the Spanish Guardia Civil, alerting officers at the AFP’s London Post to a suspicious consignment sent to Australia via sea cargo.
The consignment, containing 360 buckets of liquid cement/micro cement arrived into Melbourne on 26 June, 2023. AFP Crime Scene and Forensic Teams examined the shipment and allegedly identified about 80kg of ketamine within plastic tubes, concealed inside approximately 40 buckets of liquid micro cement.
AFP officers conducted a controlled operation, involving the delivery of the consignment to a property in Merrimu, near Bacchus Marsh on Tuesday (11 July, 2023).
It is alleged the Sunshine North man collected the 80kg ketamine and transported it to a large rural property in Lara, near Geelong, where two other alleged members of the criminal syndicate, the Altona man and Hoppers Crossing man moved and unpacked the consignment, pouring out the liquid concrete to locate the illicit drugs.
The AFP, with assistance from Victoria Police arrested the group and executed a search warrant at the Lara property, seizing multiple opened buckets of cement and other material, mobile phones and additional evidence relating to the importation.
Police also located a further 80kg of suspected ketamine buried in the ground at the Lara address.
The operational activity continued throughout the night on Tuesday and today (Wednesday 12 July, 2023) at a home in Altona, along with two commercial storage facilities in Yarraville and Williamstown in Melbourne’s west.
Detective Superintendent Hall said the arrest of this alleged Victorian-based syndicate should serve as a clear warning to transnational serious organised crime groups attempting to import drugs into Australia.
“The AFP is aware of your evolving methods and the arrest of these three men is yet another example that together with our vast network of partners, the AFP is aggressively attacking and defeating your illicit operations,” he said.
“We are committed to working with our state, Commonwealth and international law enforcement partners to continue to target, identify and dismantle your criminal operations – as we have done here today.”
The AFP located and seized two high powered gel blasters, about 25kg of suspected MDMA and approximately 14kg of suspected ketamine, along with an estimated $210,000 in cash.
This resulted in a total of 174kg of ketamine being seized as part of Operation Woodgate.
The Altona man, 37 was charged with a series of offences including:
• Importation of a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, namely Ketamine, contrary to section 307.1 Criminal Code 1995;
• Attempt to possess commercial quantities of unlawfully imported border controlled drugs, namely Ketamine, contrary to section 307.5(1) by virtue of section 11.1 of the Criminal Code (Cth) 1995;
• Possess commercial quantities of border controlled drugs, namely Ketamine, contrary to section 307.5(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth) 1995; and
• Dealing in money or property that is proceeds of indictable crime of value AUD100,000 or more, contrary to section 400.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth)
The Sunshine North man, 33, was charged with:
• Importation of a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, namely Ketamine, contrary to section 307.1 Criminal Code 1995; and
• Attempt to possess commercial quantities of unlawfully imported border controlled drugs, contrary to section 307.5(1) by virtue of section 11.1 of the Criminal Code (Cth) 1995.
The Hoppers Crossing man, 32, was charged with:
• Attempt to possess commercial quantities of unlawfully imported border controlled drugs, contrary to section 307.5(1) by virtue of section 11.1 of the Criminal Code (Cth) 1995 The maximum penalty for these offences is life imprisonment.
They are expected to face the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today (Wednesday 12 July, 2023).
Investigations remain ongoing and further arrests are possible.
*Figure obtained from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
The following services provide people with access to support and information:
• For free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drug treatment services call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.
• Access free 24/7 drug and alcohol counselling online at www.counsellingonline.org.au.
• For information about drug and alcohol addiction treatment or support, go to www.turningpoint.org.au.