500kg of cocaine seized in Solomon Islands, two arrested in Sydney as part of joint international operation

A joint international investigation has led to the seizure of approximately 500 kilograms of cocaine in the Solomon Islands and the arrest of two men in Sydney allegedly involved in planning to import the drugs into Australia.

The joint investigation involving the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF), the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), NSW Police Force (NSWPF) and Australian Border Force (ABF), culminated on Thursday, 27 September, with simultaneous police activity in Sydney and the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara.

The Belgian-registered, double-masted yacht Vieux Malin was searched by the RSIPF – with assistance from AFP – at a mooring outside the Honiara marina. A large quantity of cocaine was found concealed within the vessel and seized.

It is suspected the cocaine was placed on board the vessel in South America and was destined to be imported into Australia. The concealment of cocaine was complex and professionally constructed. It is estimated the vessel contained 500 kilograms of cocaine.

Further forensic examination will be conducted by the AFP to determine the exact purity of the substance.

Law enforcement in Australia coordinated activity in Sydney on Thursday, 27 September, to coincide with the search of the yacht in Honiara. Two men were arrested and four search warrants conducted in the suburbs of Wahroonga, Bonnyrigg Heights, Dolls Point and Caringbah. Items seized during the warrants included a variety of documents and electronic material.

It will be alleged in court that a 41-year-old Wahroonga man was a key facilitator in organising the transportation of the drugs and financing the enterprise. It will be alleged a 39-year-old Bonnyrigg Heights man facilitated the transfer of money to fund this criminal enterprise.

The men appeared before Sydney Central Local Court yesterday (Friday, 28 September) where bail was refused. The matter is relisted for mention on 28 November, 2018.

AFP Detective Superintendent Ben McQuillan, Coordinator Organised Crime Sydney, said international collaboration in this case was pivotal in helping Australian authorities lay these charges.

“This is an unprecedented operation between Australian and Solomon Islands authorities, illustrating what can be achieved when our partners collaborate to stop large-scale drug importations before they have a chance to reach Australian communities,” Detective Superintendent McQuillan said.

“We have deployed investigators and forensic experts to work side-by-side with the RSIPF to achieve this outcome, and they will continue to work tirelessly to gather evidence offshore.”

RSIPF Commissioner Matthew Varley commented “the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force is proud to work in partnership with Australian and International Partners to combat drug and transnational crime affecting the Pacific. The RSIPF will continue to play its part in protecting Solomon Islanders and our broader Pacific neighbours”.

ABF Regional Investigations NSW Superintendent Garry Low said ABF investigators had once again been able to contribute to efforts to keep dangerous substances off Australian streets.

“We know the demand for cocaine in Australia is increasing and tackling this issue requires a multi-layered approach through disruptions offshore, detections at the border and targeting the facilitators here in Australia,” Superintendent Low said.

“The ABF will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners, here and through the Pacific, to bring down these individuals no matter where in the supply chain they sit.”

 The Wahroonga man was charged with:

  • Conspiracy to import commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, contrary to Section 307.1 by virtue of Section 11.5 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). The offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
  • Knowingly deal in money or other property which is an instrument of crime, valued at greater than $50,000, contrary to Section 400.5(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). The offence carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment.

The Bonnyrigg Heights man was charged with one count of knowingly deal in money or other property which is an instrument of crime, valued at greater than $50,000, Section 400.5(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The investigation remains ongoing and further police activity has not been ruled out.

Editor’s note: Multimedia content is available to download from the following links:

Sydney arrest footage, filmed on 27 September 2018 in Wahroonga.
https://spaces.hightail.com/receive/pgMEjYkIHp

Solomon Islands footage and images filmed on 27 September 2018.
https://spaces.hightail.com/receive/kcaL4YTtmC

Forensics footage and images filmed on 28 September 2018.

https://spaces.hightail.com/receive/BAQVSLI18I

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