Ironside: Sydney men face court over failed cocaine smuggling plot

Op IRONSIDE

Editor’s note: footage of the dive to recover the tyre is available via Hightail.

Two Sydney men who were allegedly involved in a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into Australia attached to the hulls of container ships are expected to face Sydney Central Local Court today (4 May 2022), charged after an Australian Federal Police-led Operation Ironside investigation.

The duo, aged 43 and 47, and another Sydney man, also 47, were allegedly part of a transnational crime syndicate that twice tried to import cocaine into New South Wales hidden in tyres attached by chains to the outside of cargo vessels.

AFP officers allege Australian and offshore members of the group used encrypted communications to organise the drug shipments, with the first attempted importation of about 30 kilograms of cocaine occurring in October 2019.

One of the 47-year-olds, an experienced diver, allegedly tried to retrieve a tyre from a cargo ship docked at Port Botany but dropped it on the ocean floor.

NSW Police divers later found an empty tyre close to where the ship had been berthed and authorities believe the cocaine was dislodged during the vessel’s voyage to Australia.

Police will allege there were arguments between Australian and offshore members of the syndicate about whether or not the drugs made it to NSW and who might be left with a multimillion dollar debt over the failed importation.

In February 2020 the group allegedly attempted a second importation containing a further 30 kilograms of cocaine using the same tactics. Unbeknown to the group, the AFP arranged for NSW Police divers to recover a tyre attached by chain to the hull of the container ship upon it docking in Port Botany. Police will allege the drugs also dislodged at sea before the vessel reached Sydney.

As a result of ongoing investigations, AFP officers charged the three men last month (April) over their alleged roles in the conspiracy.

AFP Detective Superintendent Matthew Ciantar said police were continuing to analyse intelligence from Operation Ironside, the global co-ordinated joint law enforcement sting, to prosecute people involved in trying to flood the Australian community with drugs.

“Transnational serious organised crime groups prey on Australia because it is one of the most profitable countries in the world to sell drugs,” Det-Supt Ciantar said.

“Some people may view cocaine as a safe drug but it is not, and the transnational serious organised criminals who prey on our communities to make a profit undermine our national security and economy.

“Had these drugs reached Australian streets, this amount could have been sold to 300,000 individuals and put up to $45 million into the pockets of dangerous criminals.

“This outcome should serve as a clear message - no matter how you try to import and hide drugs, and regardless of how successful your plans are, we will find you and you will face the full force of the law.”

NSW Police State Crime Command Director, Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett, said the interdiction was testament to the collaborative nature of modern law enforcement.

"The seizure of these drugs placed significant pressure on members of this syndicate and their operations, which ultimately led to their demise,” Det Ch Supt Bennett said.

"NSW Police will always work with our partners to doggedly pursue anyone involved in drug importations and other serious organised crime that poses a real risk to public safety.”

The three men have each been charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drug contrary to sections 307.1(1) and of 11.5 (1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth). The maximum penalty for this offence is life imprisonment.

The third man, from Banksia, is expected to face court on 1 June.

Members of the community with information relating to drug imports are encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or report it online.

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.

Media enquiries:

AFP Media: (02) 5126 9297

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