This is a joint media release between the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force.
*Editor's Note: Vision of the operation available via hightail
A 45-year-old Sydney man has been charged for allegedly importing approximately 144 kilograms of cocaine hidden in hydraulic cylinders.
Operation Tethys began earlier this month following an Australian Border Force (ABF) detection of drugs hidden in a consignment of hydraulic cylinders, arriving from South Africa into Brisbane on 1 October 2020.
ABF officers identified anomalies within the pistons of the two hydraulic cylinders. Inside the large pistons was a total of six metal drums, each concealing 24 blocks of white powder. A presumptive test of the powder returned a positive result for cocaine.
The detection was reported to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for investigation.
AFP Crime Scene Investigators removed the cocaine blocks from the hydraulic cylinders and substituted them with an inert substance for a controlled delivery of the consignment to a warehouse in Botany, NSW.
The total approximate weight of the cocaine was determined to be 144 kilograms, which has an estimated street value of $64.8 million.
AFP officers executed search warrants at two warehouses on Friday (23 October 2020) in Botany, NSW.
Police will allege in court that the 45-year-old man took delivery of the consignment at a Botany warehouse and spent a significant amount of time on Wednesday and Thursday (21-22 October 2020) pulling apart the cylinders and accessing the hidden consignment.
The man was arrested at a Botany warehouse and charged with:
One count attempt to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs contrary to section 307.1, by virtue of section 11.1, of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth); and One count attempt to possess a commercial quantity of unlawfully imported border controlled drugs contrary to section 307.5, by virtue of section 11.1, of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).
These offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
It will be alleged the man facilitated the importation and was to play a significant role in onward distribution of it. Further enquiries are ongoing into the source of the cocaine, and into other intended recipients in Australia.
During the search warrants, AFP officers seized a number of items, including sum of US currency, gold bullions and silver ingots.
AFP Detective Superintendent Ben McQuillan said the AFP is continuing its enquiries domestically and with its international law enforcement partners to identify this organised crime group looking to profit from the high demand for illicit drugs in Australia.
"We believe further investigation of this matter will reveal significant links to organised criminal elements. We suspect this because of the money involved in purchasing 144kg of cocaine in source countries, and the cost of obtaining the industrial machinery to conceal it and then ship it more than halfway around the world," he said.
"It is unfortunate that organised crime groups and cocaine users ignore the misery caused by this drug. The production of cocaine causes deforestation in source countries, toxic chemicals used to extract and processes cocaine from coca leaf are often dumped into vital waterways, and the organisations who oversee this basically enslave entire generations of families who live in farming and production areas."
Australian Border Force (ABF) Regional Commander for Queensland, Chris Waters, said the initial detection highlighted the tireless work of ABF officers at the border.
"Our officers are highly trained to detect even the most sophisticated attempts to conceal the attempted illegal import of prohibited substances. Drugs such as these exact a terrible toll on the Australian community and we will continue to work closely with law enforcement partners like the AFP to combat this abhorrent crime," Commander Waters said.
The man appeared in Parramatta Local Court yesterday (24 October 2020) and was refused bail. He is next due in Sydney Central Local Court on 17 December 2020.
Note to media
Media are encouraged to include help-seeking information in stories about illicit drugs to minimise any negative impact on people in the community. 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 counsellingonline.org.au. For information about drug and alcohol addiction treatment or support, go to turningpoint.org.au. Media enquiries
AFP National Media: (02) 5126 9297
ABF Media: (02) 6264 2224