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645kg of MDMA hidden in barbeques seized by authorities

17 December 2019, 11:05am
Media Release

645kg of MDMA hidden in barbeques seized by authorities

This is a joint media release between Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force.

A joint law enforcement operation spanning six months and three countries has resulted in the seizure of 645kg of MDMA in Sydney, and the arrest of two people.

This investigation has involved the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Border Force (ABF), the Cyprus Drug Law Enforcement Unit (DLEU) and the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (NCA).

A 30-year-old man from Coomera (Queensland) and a 33-year-old Canadian national were arrested and charged over their involvement in the criminal enterprise to import the MDMA.

Three search warrants were executed in Cyprus by the DLEU and two in the London areas of Ilford and Edmonton by the NCA as part of efforts to obtain evidence to identify those responsible for facilitating the importation. Search warrants were executed in NSW at Bondi Junction, Surry Hills, Canley Heights and Tahmoor following the Coomera man’s arrest, while another was executed at Smeaton Grange this morning. A premises in Brisbane, Queensland, was also searched last night.

Approximately $300,000 in cash was seized at the Bondi Junction and Canley Heights premises, while 3.5kg of cocaine was also seized at Canley Heights.

The investigation began in early July, when Cyprus Police obtained information about the potential export of a large amount of drugs from Cyprus to Australia. The DLEU conducted an investigation in Cyprus and identified a suspicious consignment in a container which had already departed the port of Limassol for Sydney. This information was provided to the AFP through its international network.

ABF officers acted on this information and intercepted the container on 17 July 2019. It was found to contain 200 aluminium barbeques. Deconstruction of the barbeques revealed a large portion had false base plates, each concealing multiple packages of a brown crystalline substance. Forensic analysis determined the packages contained a total of 645kg of MDMA.

The drugs were seized by AFP and an investigation launched. Investigators replaced the MDMA with an inert substance and began a controlled delivery on 22 July 2019. The consignment was delivered to a warehouse in Matraville, where it sat for more than three months.

Beginning in late October, the barbeques were gradually transferred to another warehouse at Smeaton Grange. It will be alleged in court that the Coomera man travelled to Sydney at that time to remove the MDMA from some of the barbeques and prepare it for further distribution. The man has remained in Sydney for almost two months, and was arrested at a rented apartment in Bondi Junction yesterday afternoon (16 December 2019). He is expected to face Sydney Central Local Court today.

The Canadian man arrived in Sydney on Tuesday, 10 December 2019, and visited the warehouse at Smeaton Grange the next day. It will be alleged in court that he acted as a liaison for the criminal group responsible for importing the MDMA. He was arrested by AFP officers in Brisbane yesterday. He is expected to face Brisbane Magistrates Court today, and will later be extradited to NSW.

AFP Commander Organised Crime Kirsty Schofield said the seizure was a significant result for public safety.

“The size of this seizure and the amount of harm it could potentially have caused cannot be understated, and the Australian community is safer for it not being on our streets,” she said.

“We are grateful to our partners in Cyprus and the UK for their willingness to help us as we seek to identify those responsible for this consignment – we will always try and work our way up the chain of organised crime syndicates seeking to profit from exploiting our community.

“The reality is these drugs put strain on our health services and our economy, they tear apart families and the illicit proceeds fund organised crime. It is our job to protect Australia from to these threats.”

ABF Regional Commander for NSW Danielle Yannopoulos said the result was a testament to the ABF’s highly-skilled officers and the wide range of sophisticated technologies they have at their disposal.

“Our officers continue to prove, time and time again, that criminals who attempt to hide these substances are wasting their time. We have invested heavily in our technological capability in recent years, and our officers can see further into these containers than ever before,” she said.

“Just this year we’ve found illicit substances in professionally manufactured car parts, fridges, furniture, and even an excavator.

“My message to criminals is clear: reconsider. We will find these drugs and the penalties are very high.”

The Head of the EU and International Cooperation Office of the DLEU praised the ongoing cooperation that has been essential to the success of this operation.

“As part of the efforts of the Cyprus Police – and specifically the DLEU’s efforts to combat the illegal trade of drugs at an international level and enhance cooperation with other authorities across the world – all the necessary and available information was forward to Australian law enforcement for their consideration and further handling

“During the months this investigation has been running, the Cyprus DLEU, through its European Union and International Police Cooperation Office, was in a close contact and collaboration with Australian authorities, specifically the AFP Liaison Officer accredited to Cyprus, who is posted in Lebanon.”

The NCA’s Australia and New Zealand liaison officer, Mark Bishop, said international cooperation is key to combatting the threat posed by organised crime.

“The NCA works with law enforcement partners all over the world to disrupt serious and organised crime. Our support to the Australian Federal Police’s investigation into large scale drug trafficking is an important demonstration of the global partnerships needed to effectively tackle the threat,” he said.

The investigation remains ongoing and is expected to lead to further arrests.

The Coomera man was charged with one count of attempt to possess a commercial quantity of an unlawfully imported border controlled drug, namely MDMA, contrary to sections 307.5(1), by virtue of 11.1(1), of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). The maximum penalty for this offence is life imprisonment.

The Canadian man was charged with one count of aid, abet counsel or procure an imported border controlled drug contrary to sections 307.1, by virtue of 11.2(1), of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). The maximum penalty for this offence is life imprisonment.

If you or anyone you know has an issue with illicit drug use, contact the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 for free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drug treatment services.

Editor's Note

Hightail link with footage available here.

Hightail link to press conference available here.

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