Final two members of international drug syndicate sentenced

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Editor's Note: Images and footage of this operation are available for download.

Two members of an international criminal syndicate arrested in 2017 for importing more than 90 kilograms of cocaine into Victoria have been sentenced to a combined 31 years in prison.

They were two of seven men arrested in Melbourne in June 2017 for their role in importing 92 kilograms of cocaine and conspiring to import a further 100 kilograms of cocaine from Panama. A further three people were arrested for money laundering within the syndicate.

The combined value of the cocaine is estimated to be worth more than $30 million dollars wholesale.

A further two men, linked to the criminal syndicate were previously arrested in Port Hedland, Western Australia in May 2017, for trafficking a further 22 kilograms of cocaine.

A total of $2.6m in cash and property has been forfeited as proceeds of crime as part of the operation.

A 34-year-old Canadian national was found guilty of two charges of conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs in the Melbourne County Court and sentenced to a maximum of 14 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 10 years and four months.

A second Canadian national, also aged 34 years old, was found guilty of two charges of conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs and sentenced to 17 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 12 years. He had also previously forfeited a 2016 Honda CRV Wagon under proceeds of crime action.

The combined terms of imprisonment imposed by the courts from this investigation was 98 years.

The cocaine arrived in a container from Panama via sea cargo vessel into the Port of Melbourne on Monday, 26 June 2017. The container was taken to the Australian Border Force's (ABF's) container examination facility, where ABF officers detected the cocaine was found concealed in three black duffle bags packed loosely in the container. Inside each of the bags were 26 blocks of cocaine.

Following the seizure, tactical officers from the AFP and Victoria Police executed search warrants across Melbourne, in Docklands, Parkville, South Yarra, Essendon, Caroline Springs, Mernda, Sunshine West, and Carlton.

Seven men were arrested at various locations and charged with a number of offences related to the importation and attempted possession of the cocaine, as well as money laundering offences.

On Wednesday, 19 January 2022, the final two syndicate members, 34-year-old men from Canada have been sentenced.

AFP Detective Acting Superintendent Chris Salmon said the close collaboration between Australian and international law enforcement agencies remains key to stopping large-scale drug importations.

"This result sends a strong message to illicit organised criminal groups," Detective Acting Superintendent Salmon said.

"The AFP and its Commonwealth, state and international partners remain committed to identifying, dismantling and prosecuting these criminal syndicates.

"Intercepting illicit drugs before they hit the streets assists in reducing strain on hospitals and deaths in our community. We are determined to prevent this serious harm to the Australian community."

Victoria Police Detective Superintendent Jacqueline Curran said the warning is clear - we remain committed to identifying, targeting and disrupting organised crime and will continue to prosecute those who attempt to import drugs into Australia.

"Crime Command's Organised Crime Division has involvement in several joint agency taskforces with the AFP, ABF, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and Department of Home Affairs," she said.

"Trident Taskforce is one example, and it is very firmly focussed on identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities in the maritime supply chain – this investigation is just one of many successes over recent years where Trident has countered the availability of drugs to the Victorian community.

"Every day police see the harm that drugs such as cocaine cause.

"To be able to make these seizures with the assistance of the ABF and AFP is absolutely a win for the community.

"Not only can drugs destroy the lives of users, they can also destroy the lives of those attempting to profit from their sale, when they are inevitably caught."

Australian Border Force Assistant Commissioner Phil Brezzo said the successful prosecutions were the result of exceptional investigative work, and joint agency collaboration both in Australia and across the globe.

"It is immensely satisfying to see ABF officers play such a key role in delivering justice to those involved in this major organised crime syndicate targeting Australians," Assistant Commissioner Brezzo said.

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