Queensland men charged with possessing nearly 540kg of cocaine

Bricks of cocaine in wrapped in plastic

This is a joint release between the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force and Queensland Police Service.

Editor's note: Images from this arrest are available for download.

Two Queensland men are scheduled to face Brisbane Magistrates Court today charged with possessing nearly 540kg of cocaine allegedly secreted inside empty shipping containers.

The co-accused, aged 26 and 28, were each charged with two counts of possessing a commercial quantity of cocaine following an investigation by the Queensland National Anti-Gangs Squad (NAGS) - comprised of Australian Federal Police and Queensland Police Service (QPS). The drugs had an estimated street value of $124 million.

Queensland NAGS launched Operation Chopin in May 2019 to investigate the large scale importation of cocaine into Australia. The investigation also involved the Australian Border Force (ABF).

Police allege the men are close associates of international and domestic members of the Comanchero and Lone Wolf Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs and were made aware of two illegal shipments of cocaine bound for the Port of Brisbane in May and June 2020.

Between 1 June to 14 June 2020, the men allegedly attempted to retrieve 48.5 kilograms of cocaine they believed was secreted inside a refrigerated shipping container that had recently arrived in Brisbane and been moved to a container storage yard.

The container had been loaded onto a ship in Panama in early 2020 before passing through Ecuador on the way to Belgium. The men were unaware that in February 2020, Belgian authorities at the Port of Antwerp had found 42 small packages filled with white powder that were hidden inside the refrigerated container.

Belgian authorities conducted a field narcotics test of the white powder and it returned a positive result for cocaine. The packages were seized before Belgian law enforcement released the container for further passage to Brisbane via the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.

The container arrived at the Port of Brisbane in June 2020 and was stored at a shipping container storage yard. The men allegedly made multiple visits to various yards in search of the container. They allegedly traveled from the Gold Coast in a white van registered in Western Australia and replaced the number plates with cloned Queensland number plates when they were close to the Port of Brisbane.

Police will allege the men located and entered the shipping container in the yard.

The AFP will also allege that between 8 May and 12 May 2020, the men retrieved 400kg of cocaine from a total of 490kg of cocaine hidden inside another shipping container.

On 17 June 2021 at Inverell, NSW, investigators executed a search warrant at a rural property linked to the 28-year-old accused and found the white van inside an abandoned fossicking shack.

Both men have been charged with two counts of possessing commercial quantities of an unlawfully imported border-controlled drug (cocaine) contrary to subsection 307.5(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

AFP Commander Investigations Northern Command Andrew Donoghoe said the AFP was committed to keeping the Australian community safe by working with its local and international partners to thwart illicit drug imports.

"We have an international network of partners and agents that can strike at any point in the supply chain developed by organised criminal syndicates to move illicit drugs from one side of the world to another," Commander Donoghoe said.

"Every link in that supply chain contains alleged criminals who are ambivalent to the misery and harm caused by their greed. We allege that these two men possessed a commercial quantity of cocaine that would have caused significant harm to Australians if it had been allowed to reach these shores. The trade in illicit drugs strikes at the heart of our democracy by undermining our national security, our economy, social security system, and our social cohesion, especially in regional communities."

ABF Commander Bjorn Roberts said the outcome of this operation highlights the effectiveness of Australia's multi-agency and multi-layered approach to targeting illicit drug importations.

"These charges are a significant result for the agencies involved. The piecing together of information, from a variety of sources between here and the source and transshipment zones across the world, demonstrates the formidable strength and reach of our global law enforcement network" Commander Roberts said.

"The ABF looks forward to building further on the opportunities to work closely with our international law enforcement partners, making our border an even more hostile place for organised crime."

Detective Acting Superintendent Craig McGrath of the Organised Crime Gangs Group said the operation demonstrated the Queensland Police Service's commitment to working alongside partner agencies to target criminal gangs.

"The Queensland Police Service, working with our partner agencies, in operations including Operation Chopin, again clearly demonstrates we have the expertise, motivation and resources to successfully target and disrupt these groups," Detective Acting Superintendent McGrath said.

"Criminals should realise it is inevitable they will be identified, arrested and prosecuted. It should also remind people who want to join or associate with outlaw motorcycle gangs that ultimately, joining a gang will be a decision they will regret for life."

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