Media Release: International drug syndicate dismantled after 274kg ephedrine seizure

Release Date: Wednesday, September 25 2013, 09:30 AM

A multi-agency investigation has resulted in a 274kg seizure of ephedrine hidden in a shipment of rice from India into Melbourne.

This is one of the largest single seizures of ephedrine in Australian history and resulted in a joint operation involving the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Department of Agriculture and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS).

It is estimated 274kg of ephedrine could be used to manufacture up to 200 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine. Dependent on purity this would have an estimated potential street value of up to $200 million.

Four people have been charged for their alleged involvement in the importation and intended distribution of the ephedrine.

The operation began on 16 July 2013 following the examination of a consignment that arrived into the Port of Melbourne from India containing bags labelled as ‘basmati rice’.

The consignment, containing an estimated 3,600 bags of rice, was subjected to a physical biosecurity examination by Department of Agriculture biosecurity officers who identified a crystalline substance loosely distributed throughout the rice in some of the bags. The ACBPS subsequently confirmed the substance was ephedrine.

On Wednesday, 24 July 2013, the AFP commenced a controlled delivery of the consignment to a storage facility in the Melbourne suburb of Springvale.  On Monday, 5 August the consignment was transported to a storage facility in the Sydney suburb of Fairfield. 

On 23 September 2013, AFP officers executed nine search warrants in Melbourne and Sydney.  Evidence seized included $255,000 in cash.  As a result three people were arrested and three subsequently charged.

Following these arrests, Indian authorities, acting on information provided through the AFP International Network, arrested an Indian national.  This individual is alleged to be responsible for organising the ephedrine and sending the consignment to Australia.

AFP National Manager Crime Operations Ian McCartney said this operation is a testament to the combined efforts of the AFP, international and domestic partner agencies in stopping criminals from importing drugs into Australia.

“The AFP and partner agencies have dismantled this multinational syndicate and significantly stemmed the flow of narcotics on to Australian streets. The syndicate is indicative of the nature of criminal enterprises that exist only to make a profit, regardless of the harmful effect these drugs will have on Australians once they hit our streets,” National Manager Crime Operations McCartney said.

“Our best weapon in combating these multinational syndicates is close collaboration between partner agencies here and overseas. This operation is a fantastic example of how these collaborations can lead to great results that deliver for the community.”

Department of Agriculture First Assistant Secretary for Border Compliance Tim Chapman said the seizure demonstrated the cooperative approach border agencies took to combating illicit activity.

“While the Department of Agriculture’s focus is on safeguarding Australia from exotic pests and diseases, we always watch for illegal activities and share intelligence,” Mr Chapman said.

ACBPS National Director Compliance and Enforcement, Karen Harfield, said the success of this investigation sends a strong message to both Australian-based and international drug syndicates.

“Once again this highlights the ongoing work conducted by partner agencies at the border. I would like to thank all of the officers involved in this investigation,” Mrs Harfield said.

Summary of charges:

  • Two Canadian nationals and one Australian man have been charged with supply a commercial quantity of a prohibited drug contrary to section 25 (2) of the Drugs Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW).

A fourth man was also arrested and is currently assisting police with enquiries.

Investigations into the importation are continuing.

Questions relating to arrests in India should be directed to the Indian authorities.

Media enquiries:
AFP National Media (02) 6131 6333
Customs and Border Protection Media (02) 6275 6793
Department of Agriculture Media (02) 6272 3232