Second man arrested as part of international investigation in WA cocaine seizure
Editor’s note: Images and footage available via Hightail
The AFP has charged a second man in connection with a transnational drug trafficking investigation following the discovery of more than 300 kilograms of cocaine in coastal waters in Western Australia’s Great Southern region.
AFP officers – with assistance from WA Police Force members – took the man, 45, into custody last night (9 March, 2023) after a manhunt that began in February and ended yesterday in Perth’s north-eastern suburbs.
The AFP had tracked the man to a property in Henley Brook but when officers arrived yesterday evening, he allegedly fled, sparking a pursuit through the suburbs.
Police will allege the man damaged his car trying to evade officers and jumped into a vehicle driven by another man, who he arranged to collect him.
The 45-year-old later got out of that vehicle in the suburb of Bennett Springs and was arrested as he ran through properties to try to evade officers.
Police then executed a search warrant at the Henley Brook property, including in a shed where the man had allegedly been staying.
Investigators also found equipment used to create numberplates and several false numberplates.
The man appeared in Perth Magistrates Court today (10 March 2023) charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug. The maximum penalty for this offence is life imprisonment. He was remanded in custody to face court again on 21 April.
Inquiries are ongoing into other offences and the involvement of anyone who may have assisted the 45-year-old.
The breakthrough follows the arrest of a man, 36, by Northern Territory Police Force officers in February after he was found at a home in rural Darwin.
Police are still calling for public assistance to help locate a third man who investigators believe was also involved in allegedly collecting the cocaine from the ocean in February (2023).
Operation Ayr began when WA Police Force alerted the AFP about the rescue of three men from the ocean off Albany on 1 February, 2023, after their account of capsizing while fishing appeared inconsistent.
Six days later, a black plastic-wrapped package containing multiple smaller packages of cocaine washed ashore near Denmark. The next afternoon, (8 February, 2023), a seven-metre boat was found overturned off Peaceful Bay, about 45km west of Denmark.
When police retrieved and searched the cabin cruiser, named Aces and Eights, they allegedly found another eight similar plastic-wrapped packages, each containing about 40kg of cocaine.
Police believe the drugs were collected from the ocean and loaded on-board the seven-metre boat.
How and where the drugs were dropped in the water is still being investigated.
AFP Inspector Chris Colley said police were still working to locate Mate Stipinovich, 49, and urged him to contact police.
“Last night’s arrest shows that we are working tirelessly to identify and track down anyone we believe is involved in this drug importation,” he said.
“While we believe he is still in WA, recent international extraditions done by the AFP working with our offshore partners shows there is nowhere in the world to hide.
“We urge anyone with information about the location of Mr Stipinovich to call us. Anyone who is assisting him to evade police may also face charges.
“We want to thank WA Police Force for the assistance of their officers last night to help us arrest the 45-year-old.”
Inspector Colley said the interception of the cocaine prevented millions of dollars of drug profit from flowing back into the criminal group involved to fund their next illegal venture or lavish lifestyles.
“The AFP estimates this seizure has saved the community more than $190 million in drug-related harm, including associated crime, healthcare and loss of productivity.
“The AFP and our partners will continue to target and disrupt criminals based locally and offshore who are importing drugs, to ensure we can protect the Australian community.”
Anyone with information about this matter is urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or the AFP Investigations Team on (02) 5126 9979, or email: Op-AYR@afp.gov.au
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 www.counsellingonline.org.au.
For information about drug and alcohol addiction treatment or support, go to www.turningpoint.org.au.
AFP Media: (02) 5126 9297