Australian investigation leads to biggest ever U.S. meth seizure

Australian investigation leads to biggest ever U.S. meth seizure

Australian and U.S. authorities have seized more than 1.7 tonnes of methylamphetamine (ice) – equal to more than 17 million drug deals and an estimated street value of $1.29 billion - the largest ever shipment bound for Australia and the largest ever domestic seizure in the U.S.

Officers from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Victoria Police yesterday arrested six people in Victoria and NSW allegedly involved with the U.S.-based organised crime syndicate being investigated behind the record-making shipment.

The investigation was commenced as a result of intelligence gathered by the Victorian Joint Organised Crime Taskforce (JOCTF) about a planned large-scale drug importation by a suspected syndicate operating out of California. The Victorian JOCTF comprises the AFP, Victoria Police, the Australian Border Force (ABF), the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Department of Home Affairs.

The Victorian JOCTF enlisted the support of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -  Homeland Security Investigations Border Enforcement Security Task Force (HSI BEST)*, which located a consignment suspected of containing illicit drugs before it left American shores.

As a result, the HSI BEST and U.S. Customs and Border Protection detected more than 1.7 tonnes of various illicit drugs – largely methylamphetamine – inside two large containers purporting to contain audio equipment.

The drugs were seized in California by U.S. authorities on 9 January 2019 before they could reach Australian shores.

The shipment included the following drugs, with their respective estimated street values based on their value if they had reached Australia**:

  • 1,728 kilograms of methylamphetamine, estimated to be worth more than AUD $1.29 billion and equal to more than 17 million drug deals.
  • 25 kilograms of cocaine, worth an estimated AUD $9.5 million.
  • 5 kilograms of heroin, worth an estimated AUD $2.6 million.

The previous record seizure of methylamphetamine bound for Australia was 1.3 tonnes, seized in Western Australia by the WA Joint Organised Crime Task Force in December 2017.

As a result of extensive investigations to identify the alleged syndicate connections in Australia, the JOCTF executed 10 search warrants on 7-8 February 2019 in the Melbourne suburbs of Woodstock, Pakenham, Derrimut, Campbellfield, Keilor Downs and Epping, resulting in the arrest of two U.S. nationals and two Australian nationals.

These include a 52-year-old American man and 46-year-old American woman based in Woodstock, and a 31-year-old man and 29-year-old female based in Keilor Downs. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of proceeds of crime was located during the search warrant in Woodstock, and about 6.5kg of methylamphetamine was found at a property in Keilor Downs.

Three of those arrested are scheduled to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court today, to face the following charge:

  • Attempt to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, contrary to section 307.1, by virtue of section 11.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

One of those arrested will also face a charge of:

  • Possession of a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs reasonably suspected of having been unlawfully imported  contrary to section s307.8 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The maximum penalty for these offences is life imprisonment.

Three search warrants were also executed yesterday in the Sydney suburbs of Bonyyrigg Heights, Mount Pritchard and Hinchinbrook, resulting in the arrest of two Australian nationals and seizure of about 2kg of cocaine in Hinchinbrook. Those arrested include a 25-year-old Bonnyrigg Heights man and a 31-year-old Hinchinbrook man who were charged with the following:

  • Attempt to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, contrary to section 307.1, by virtue of section 11.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

One of those arrested will also face a charge of:

  • Possession of a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs reasonably suspected of having been unlawfully imported  contrary to section s307.8 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

Authorities will seek to have the men extradited to Victoria to face court in the coming days.

In Canada, with assistance from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Federal Serious and Organised Crime Unit (FSOC), five additional search warrants were executed in Burnaby, British Columbia on 7 February. These search warrants resulted in the seizure of a significant quantity of suspected proceeds of crime.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Organised Crime Bruce Hill said the JOCTF investigation demonstrated the effectiveness of Australian and international authorities working together to stamp out illicit drug importations.

“This is the biggest ever seizure of methylamphetamine – more than 1.7 tonnes – stopped before it had a chance to reach Australian streets. By stopping this, we have ensured criminals will not profit from the immense pain these drugs would have caused our community,” AC Hill said.

“I wish to thank our U.S. counterparts for their expert involvement in this investigation and strong support of our efforts to keep these drugs off Australian shores.”

U.S. Acting Ambassador James Carouso expressed his appreciation for the outstanding efforts of the Australian and U.S. agencies and officers involved: “This historic seizure highlights just how important the U.S.-Australian partnership is in protecting Americans and Australians alike.  Every day, U.S. and Australian law enforcement officers work together to keep us all safe. My sincere thanks to these dedicated professionals."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations Acting Attaché Phillip Chaves said that this investigation perfectly highlights how foreign and domestic law enforcement partnerships can successfully combat transnational criminal organisations.

Victoria Police Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh said the large-scale drug importation would have had profound impacts on the Victorian community and beyond.

“Victoria Police has zero tolerance for those bringing harm to our community by importing and trafficking drugs of any type – with this seizure we have stopped more than 17 million drug deals from reaching our streets,” AC Walsh said.

ABF Assistant Commissioner, Sharon Huey said the large-scale of this attempted import shows that criminal syndicates continue to brazenly target Australia as a market for this dangerous drug.

”Working together with our law enforcement colleagues at a state, national and international level, we are able to disrupt the illicit drug trade before it reaches the Australian community.”

ACIC State Manager Victoria Operations Jason Halls said the drugs, particularly the 1.7 tonnes of methamphetamine, would have had an immeasurable impact on the community.

“According to our National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program data, Victoria is estimated to consume just over 2 tonnes of methylamphetamine each year. Removing 1.7 tonnes of methylamphetamine before it reaches our streets will have a huge effect on the illicit drug market,” Mr Halls said.

Chief Superintendent Keith Finn, Officer in Charge of FSOC in British Columbia, stated: "The RCMP is committed to working with our international partners in any and all investigations focussed on identifying and disrupting transnational organised crime. A seizure such as this not only helps protect the country to which the shipment was destined but has a positive impact on the international market as a whole."

Investigations by Australian and international authorities are continuing.

To download arrest footage and photos of the seizure, click here.

Media enquiries:

AFP National Media: (02) 6131 6333

 

*The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement - HSI BEST (HSI BEST) includes the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Los Angeles Field Office, U.S. Coast Guard, Los Angeles Police Department, Long Beach Police Department, Los Angeles Port Police, Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

**The AFP uses the ACC Illicit Drug Data Report (www.acc.gov.au) as the consistent publication for illicit substances in Australia. This figure is the basis of calculating both the monetary value of the illicit drug were it to be sold at the end of the supply chain or 'on the street', and the number of related street deals. This is based on available price data and may not be reflective of what would generally be considered as a street deal for this drug type.

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