SYNDICATE of alleged big-time drug dealers was covertly monitored for 11 months before authorities pounced on Monday night, arresting seven men for the biggest drug importation in Australia’s history.
Four Hong Kong nationals and three men from western Sydney, all aged between 29 and 61, appeared in Central Local Court yesterday, charged with importing 558 kilograms of heroin and ice with an estimated street value of $500 million.
A tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Administration nearly a year ago led to a sophisticated surveillance operation across several countries.
In January, the Customs and Border Protection Service identified the individuals in Australia they believed were associated with the international syndicate.
Yesterday, the deputy chief executive of Customs and Border Protection, Mike Pezzullo, said they covertly learnt what the shipment might look like and roughly when it would arrive.
On July 19, 3200 terracotta pots arrived at Port Botany and were examined by customs officials. An X-ray showed that 100 pots held a combined total of 306 kilograms of ice and 252 kilograms of heroin shrink-wrapped in packages the size of bread loaves, police said. The pots were then filled with putty and put in cardboard boxes.
Mr Pezzullo said the method of concealment was fairly ”unsophisticated”. ”They were brazen,” he said.
The federal police’s Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Andrew Colvin, was confident they had smashed the drug syndicate although an investigation was still under way and more arrests would be made.
The operation represents the largest single seizure of ice in federal police history and the third-largest seizure of heroin.
Despite an increased number of drug seizures in Australia, Mr Colvin said there were not more drugs reaching our shores. Rather, the police were getting better at working with other agencies at home and abroad to make more arrests.