Multi-state drug syndicate dismantled

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The AFP has dismantled an Australian criminal network allegedly importing and manufacturing hundreds of kilograms of cocaine under the direction of a Colombian organised crime syndicate.

Nine people have been arrested across Queensland, the Northern Territory and New South Wales overnight and charged with a variety of serious drug and money laundering offences carrying maximum penalties of up to life imprisonment.

A man who the AFP will allege directed the Australian activities of a Colombian-based organised crime group was arrested in Darwin. It will be alleged the man, 33, received instructions from overseas about a shipment of cocaine smuggled into NSW.

A multi-state AFP operation tracked the syndicate allegedly couriering the cocaine, which was suspended in another substance inside plastic buckets, from Sydney to a purpose-built extraction shed on a rural property at Durong, which is about 300km northwest of Brisbane.

Five men and a woman were arrested last night in Queensland, including two men at the rural property, where they were allegedly extracting and manufacturing commercial quantities of cocaine.

One man, aged 35, was arrested at his Gold Coast home, while another, 31, was arrested at his Brisbane residence on charges related to organising and facilitating this venture, which police will allege could have produced 700kg of cocaine.

The 31-year-old man allegedly helped organise the construction of the Durong extraction facility and used suspected criminal proceeds to pay for items the syndicate required to make it operational.

A western Sydney man, 38, was arrested north of Newcastle as he drove back to Sydney from Queensland. When AFP officers searched his utility they allegedly found about 11kg of cocaine hidden inside two small fridges.

The AFP also arrested a man, 33, in Brisbane who had allegedly collected drugs from the Durong property with the Brisbane man, 31, to provide to the courier travelling to Sydney.

A woman, 32, was arrested at her Brisbane home where police seized more than $1 million in cash that police will allege is the proceeds of crime. One of the men arrested in Durong is a dual Spanish-Colombian national, 48, who allegedly flew to Australia and teamed up with a Colombian-born Sydney man, 38, as the chemical specialists responsible for extracting the cocaine from the substance it was hidden in.

The investigation began with a Colombian-born Sydney man, 38, known to law enforcement. This man picked up a dual Spanish-Colombian dual national, 48, from Sydney Airport on 18 May 2022, and their subsequent activities led investigators to suspect they were involved in illegal activity.

These two men travelled to the Gold Coast in late May, meeting with the Gold Coast man who allegedly organised the construction of the facility at Durong.

After AFP officers arrested the Darwin man, 33, outside a gym on Thursday evening, they executed a search warrant at his home and seized thousands of dollars in cash detected by ABF Firearm and Currency Detector Dogs, electronic devices and steroids. They also seized a 7.8-metre boat, suspected to be an instrument of crime.

The AFP is investigating if the vessel was acquired to collect illicit drugs dropped at sea hundreds of kilometres off the Northern Territory coast. A Gold Coast man, 30, was also arrested in Darwin and charged over his alleged involvement in the manufacturing operation.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Eastern Command Kirsty Schofield said this was an extremely complex investigation spanning three states and multiple countries.

“The global syndicate identified in this operation was ruthless and well-resourced, building a custom-made laboratory to extract and produce cocaine for distribution to multiple organised crime groups in Australia.

“This result is a testament to the AFP’s advanced capabilities, and the innovative investigative strategies our detectives used to disrupt this organised crime syndicate.

“This investigation has stopped a production line of cocaine from hitting Australian streets, and prevented millions of dollars of drug profit flowing back into the syndicate to fund their next criminal venture.”

Assistant Commissioner Schofield thanked the members of the Queensland Police Service, Northern Territory Police, New South Wales Police Force and the Australian Border Force for their expertise and commitment in supporting the complex investigation.

Investigations are continuing into the exact circumstances of how and when the cocaine was imported into Australia.

CHARGES

Six men, aged 48, 38, 35, 33, 31, and 30 have been charged with conspiracy to manufacture a commercial quantity of controlled drugs, contrary to sections 305.3 and 11.5 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The Spring Hill man, 33, has been charged with trafficking a commercial quantity of controlled drugs, contrary to section 302.2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The western Sydney man, 38, has been charged with supply a large commercial quantity of prohibited drugs namely cocaine under the Drugs Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW).

The woman, 32, has been charged with knowingly deal with proceeds of crime, the value of the money was $10,000 or more, contrary to section 400.6 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

COURT DETAILS

One man arrested in Queensland, 35, is expected to appear in Southport Magistrates Court today (22 July, 2022).

Two men arrested in Queensland, 33 and 31 are expected to appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court today.

Two other men arrested in Queensland, 48 and 38 are expected to appear in Kingaroy Magistrates Court today.

The woman has been bailed to appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court on (30 September, 2022).

The man arrested north of Newcastle is expected to appear in Raymond Terrace Court today.

The men arrested in Darwin are expected to appear in Darwin Magistrates Court on Monday (25 July, 2022).

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.

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