AUSTRALIAN, South American and Central American law enforcement agencies have dismantled an international drug syndicate, combining to arrest 14 people for the supply and distribution of cocaine to and within Australia.
Authorities took simultaneous action on 27 May in response to the importation into Australia of more than 50kg of cocaine, chemically suspended in hydraulic oil.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP), in conjunction with Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and Queensland Police Service, have charged a 38-year-old Australian man and two Colombian nationals, aged 30 and 42, at Mackay, in northern Queensland.
The three men face a total of 26 charges and have been remanded to appear in Mackay Magistrates Court on Monday.
All three men have been charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
A third Colombian national, aged 24, was also arrested in Mackay overnight with investigations ongoing.
On the same date, Colombia’s Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) arrested seven Colombian nationals with charges including drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit a crime.
Panama authorities arrested three Panama nationals, who face a maximum penalty of 30 years imprisonment for international drug trafficking charges.
The AFP commenced the operation in September 2009, utilising its International Network.
The method of cocaine concealment was highly sophisticated, the illicit drug infused in more than 390 litres of hydraulic oil.
It will be alleged the drug syndicate had ‘chemists’ in Colombia and Australia capable of concealing and then extracting the illicit drug.
The cocaine was present in 17 barrels, hidden amongst a total consignment of 600 barrels of hydraulic oil.
The imported cocaine was destined for Australia’s major eastern cities. AFP Manager Brisbane Office, Mark Walters, said the results of the successful law enforcement operation would be widespread.
"The significance of this operation is more than just a large seizure of cocaine it’s also about the lasting damage this will inflict on transnational organised crime and Australia’s illicit drug trade,” Commander Walters said.
“This operation has dismantled a cocaine syndicate at every level, from the organisers, investors and financiers to the dealers peddling these drugs on our streets.
"We’ve choked the drug supply at the source in South America, apprehended the facilitators in Central America, we’ve taken out the major players of an organised crime syndicate within Australia and we’ve put the drug distribution networks on notice in Australia’s major cities.”
It will be alleged that the Australian base of the syndicate was in the Mackay region of northern Queensland.
Australian authorities intercepted the cocaine-laced oil when it first arrived in Melbourne by sea cargo on 10 May, 2011, monitoring the consignment as it was ferried to Brisbane and then transported by rail to Mackay.
Customs and Border Protection National Manager Enforcement Operations, Kaylene Zakharoff, said the operation demonstrated the strength of Australia’s law enforcement in combating illegal activity.
"These detections should send a strong warning to other potential importers of illegal drugs that, no matter how sophisticated the concealment, their importation will be intercepted,” Ms Zakharoff said.
“Our officers are highly trained in the detection of concealed drugs and this operation demonstrates the strength of these skills combined with quality targeting and search efforts.”
On the evening of 27 May, AFP, Customs and Border Protection and Queensland Police executed a total of seven search warrants in the Mackay region, police seizing the cocaine-oil consignment and hundreds of litres of chemicals.
It will be alleged that the chemicals, including acids and solvents, were intended for the drug extraction process.
Detective Superintendent Steve Holahan from Queensland Police Services’ State Drug Investigation Unit said the operation highlights the investigative and intelligence capabilities of multi-agency partnerships.
“A key focus for all law enforcement agencies is the trafficking and supply of dangerous and illicit drugs such as cocaine.
"The success of this joint operation has caused a disruption to an international crime syndicate,” he said.
The Australian strike also initiated law enforcement action in South America and Central America, activity focused on the cities of Medellin and Panama City.
Australian authorities also investigated the intended destination of the drugs. In a second phase of the operation, the AFP has this morning executed three search warrants in Melbourne. AFP investigations are ongoing.
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