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21 April 2024, 8:18am
Media Release

Alleged international drug couriers charged over attempted cocaine flight

This is a joint media release between the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force and Homeland Security Investigations

Editor’s note: Images of seizure and arrest vision are available via Hightail.

The AFP has arrested four alleged international drug couriers, including the suspected ringleader of the transnational drug mule syndicate, accused of attempting to smuggle cocaine into Australia on board a flight from the United States to Melbourne.

AFP officers arrested and charged a United States national, 55, at Melbourne Airport on Tuesday 16 April, 2024, who is accused of planning and supervising the transnational drug courier syndicate as they attempted to import cocaine concealed inside their luggage on board an international flight to Australia.

Police will allege the man oversaw three United States nationals travelling on board a flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne on Friday 12 April, 2024, to carry around 30kg of cocaine inside their luggage.

The three women, aged 22, 24 and 35, were passengers on the flight and each allegedly concealed approximately 10kg of cocaine inside their luggage.

Australian Border Force (ABF) intercepted the alleged drug couriers following intelligence received from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after a fourth woman, 41, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday 11 April, 2024.

It is alleged the woman had attempted to board the same flight carrying 10kg of cocaine concealed inside clothing in their luggage.

The AFP subsequently arrested the three women upon their arrival into Melbourne International Airport.  

ABF officers examined six suitcases and found a number of packages containing a white powder substance in each suitcase. The substance was presumptively tested and indicated a positive result for cocaine.

The 55-year-old US national arrived on board a separate flight into Melbourne from Los Angeles on Friday 12 April, 2024, before he was later located and arrested by police at Melbourne Airport yesterday.

The three females were each charged with:

  • One count of importing a commercial quantity of border controlled drug, namely cocaine, contrary to section 307.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth); and
  • One count of possessing a commercial quantity of cocaine, contrary to section 307.8 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The male was charged with:

  • One count of importing a commercial quantity of border controlled drug, namely cocaine, contrary to section 307.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth); and
  • One count of attempting to possess a commercial quantity of cocaine, contrary to section 307.8 and 11.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The maximum penalty for these offences is life imprisonment.

The man faced the Melbourne Magistrate Court on Wednesday 17 April, 2024, and the women on Saturday 13 April, 2024, where they were all remanded in custody.

They are all scheduled to reappear in court on 5 August, 2024.

AFP Detective Superintendent Simone Butcher said drug couriers were driven by money and greed and would go to any lengths to import illicit substances into Australia.

“A dangerous amount of cocaine was stopped as a result of intelligence sharing between Australian and international law enforcement agencies,” Det-Supt Butcher said.

“This attempted importation of about 30kg of cocaine had an estimated street value of nearly $10 million, if it had reached our streets. This had the potential to facilitate 30,000 individual street deals and cause tens of millions of dollars in harm to the Australian community.

 “These arrests send a strong warning to drug couriers attempting to smuggle illicit drugs into Australia – no matter how you try and move your drugs, the AFP, together with our international, Commonwealth and state law enforcement partners will be waiting for you.”

HSI Attache Ernest Verina said each arrest and each seizure saves lives and decreases the additional crime that surrounds these illegal and dangerous criminal smuggling operations.

“The international effort that led to this interdiction of large quantities of cocaine is a great example of successful collaboration between multiple international law enforcement agencies determined to prevent illegal drugs from entering our communities,” Ernest Verina said.

ABF Acting Superintendent, Aviation Operations, Costas Karatzas said those attempting to import illicit substances into Australia should not underestimate the intuition, experience and commitment of ABF officers to disrupt this type of criminal activity.

 “The ABF works closely with its domestic and international law enforcement partners to prevent illicit drugs reaching Australian streets” Acting Superintendent Karatzas said.

“The Australian border is one of our most critical national assets, and our dedicated ABF officers are relentless in their commitment to making it a hostile environment for criminal syndicates trying to import dangerous drugs and harming the Australian community.”

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