A record 1.2 tonnes of methamphetamine has been seized on the west coast of Australia and eight men have been charged as a result of a complex, multi-agency investigation which traversed the country.
It is the largest meth bust in Australia’s history, topping an unrelated 903-kilogram seizure in Melbourne in the first quarter of 2017. It is the largest ever drug seizure in Western Australia.
The Western Australian Joint Organised Crime Task Force (WA JOCTF) has been working in close partnership since July to dismantle a drug trafficking network, believed to be based in Australia. The WA JOCTF involves the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Western Australia Police Force, Australian Border Force (ABF), AUSTRAC, and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. It also received assistance from members of the Department of Home Affairs.
Police will allege in court a marine vessel, the Valkoista, arrived at the Port of Geraldton, WA, around 2am WST yesterday (Thursday, 21 December 2017).
Police will allege the drugs were then offloaded into a white hire van shortly before 4am WST. Tactical response police officers intercepted the van as it reversed from the dock. Police arrested the three occupants of the van: a 33-year-old man from southern Sydney and two men from NSW, aged 38 and 52.
Simultaneously, police boarded the Valkoista and arrested three crew members onboard: a 45-year-old man from the NSW Central Coast and two men from South Australia, aged 48 and 44.
Fifty-nine bags containing approximately 20 kilograms of methamphetamine were seized from the vehicle. An additional bag containing approximately 20 kilograms of methamphetamine was found on the vessel, bringing the total amount of methamphetamine seized to around 1.2 tonnes. This amount of methamphetamine has an estimated street value of $1.04 billion.
The six men were transported to Geraldton Police Station for processing.
The vessel and the vehicle were seized by police, searched, and forensically examined. Search warrants were also conducted at residential properties in Sydney, the NSW Central Coast, and Adelaide.
Two men from South Australia, both aged 37, were later arrested at a hotel in Hillarys in northern Perth for their alleged involvement in this drug importation.
The two men, along with the crew of the Valkoista, have been charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, contrary to subsection 307.1(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). The occupants of the van have been charged with possessing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug reasonably suspected of having been unlawfully imported, contrary to section 307.8 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).
Both offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The eight men have been remanded in custody. The two men charged in Perth are scheduled to appear in Perth Magistrates Court today. The six men charged in Geraldton are scheduled to appear in Perth Magistrates Court on Wednesday, 17 January 2018.
AFP Deputy Commissioner Operations Leanne Close said police were continuing to gather and evaluate evidence.
“The success of this operation is a testament to the patience and dedication of our investigators, who have been working around the clock in the lead-up to Christmas to disrupt this record importation,” Deputy Commissioner Close said.
“The AFP will allege in court these men intended to distribute the drugs along the east coast of Australia – what these men didn’t count on was a calculated, intelligence-led response from the WA Joint Organised Crime Task Force which drew on the strengths and capabilities of the different agencies involved.”
Western Australia Police Commissioner Chris Dawson has commended the hard work of the joint agencies which has stopped many millions of harmful drug hits from reaching our cities and towns.
“I attribute the success of this operation to WA Police jointly working with National partners in the Joint Operational Crime Task Force. Intelligence has led to five law enforcement agencies working together to disrupt what we will allege is a serious crime syndicate. We are striking at the top end of drug trafficking before it gets further down the distribution chain," WA Police Commissioner Dawson said.
ABF WA Regional Commander Rod O’Donnell praised the work of all involved, including the ABF’s Maritime Border Command and Strategic Border Command officers who provided significant monitoring and response capability during the operation, both on land and at sea.
Investigators from ABF Enforcement Command and intelligence from the Department of Home Affairs were also critical.
“This result is the culmination of several months of hard work by officers and staff from a number of state and federal agencies and, once again, together we have stopped a significant amount of methamphetamine before it could reach the Australian community,” Commander O’Donnell said.
“Australia’s maritime border is vast and some criminals clearly think they can exploit that and evade detection – they are wrong. These criminals should always assume we are nearby and we are watching.”
AUSTRAC National Manager Intelligence Dr John Moss said the agency supported the joint task force by developing the financial networks of the main suspects. AUSTRAC analysts collaborated with the task force to ensure relevant, accurate, and timely all-source intelligence was constantly available to support the investigative strategy.
"AUSTRAC financial intelligence was a critical element in detecting and monitoring the criminal activities of this drug syndicate,” Dr Moss said.