Joint agency operation charges three people for 140kg meth importation

Austrlian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police, Australian Border Force, Royal Canada Mounted Police

Editor’s Note: Stills of the seized items are available for download.

Three men have been charged by the Victorian Joint Organised Crime Taskforce (JOCTF) for an alleged attempt to import 140 kilograms of methamphetamine into Australia concealed in catering equipment.

The men faced Melbourne Magistrates Court via video link on Wednesday (17 November 2021) and were remanded in custody, accused of facilitating the importation of the drugs from Canada into Melbourne.

The drugs have an estimated value of more than $88 million if sold as individual street deals.

The Victorian JOCTF consists of members of the Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police, Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and Department of Home Affairs. 

The investigation began after the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) identified a suspicious air cargo shipment in Toronto bound for Melbourne. Closer examination revealed 140 kilograms of methamphetamine concealed inside an industrial dough mixing machine. 

The investigation into the drug trafficking plot was greatly aided by intelligence provided to the AFP by the Royal Malaysian Customs Department.

The JOCTF began an investigation into the suspected syndicate responsible for the attempted import destined for Melbourne.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and CBSA obtained approval for an international controlled operation to allow the consignment to be delivered to the intended recipients in Australia, facilitated through the AFP’s International Network.

The consignment arrived in Melbourne on 5 October 2021, where it was cleared for release and moved to a storage location in Tullamarine.

Police monitored the consignment as it was moved to multiple locations in Melbourne in what police will allege was a sophisticated attempt by the people responsible to identify any law enforcement interest.

On Wednesday (17 November 2021) police arrested the three men – aged 29, 33 and 37 years – and executed seven search warrants in Keilor East, Williamstown, Ravenhall, Bonnie Brook, Maribyrnong, Sunbury and West Footscray.

During the warrants officers seized significant amounts of cash, estimated to be in excess of $1.5 million, various quantities of drugs, a handgun, two long arm firearms, ammunition, a motorbike and a used clandestine laboratory at a rural address containing drug manufacturing equipment. These items will all be subject to further forensic analysis.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Southern Command Krissy Barrett said the strong local and international partnerships led to the outstanding result of preventing 140 kilograms of ice from reaching Australian shores.

“The success of this operation is due to the strong relationships we have with offshore law enforcement counterparts including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and our local colleagues,” she said.

“Together we share intelligence and help investigate the activities of transnational and serious organised crime syndicates, with the assistance of the AFP International Network and its Liaison Officers based in posts around the world.” 

AFP Detective Superintendent Andrew Bailey said this outstanding operational outcome was achieved through close investigative collaboration and a broad, long-standing relationship with the RCMP, including within the transnational serious organised crime environment.

“It demonstrates the effectiveness of AFP Liaison Officers based in Washington DC and Los Angeles and RCMP Liaison Officers in Canberra,” Detective Superintendent Bailey said.

“A significant component of Australia’s organised crime and drug threats are based offshore or have substantial offshore links. The AFP’s International Network will continue to lead the work that the AFP and Australian law enforcement conduct offshore, impacting the Australian and global criminal environment and protecting our community.”

Royal Canada Mounted Police Toronto Airport Detachment Border Integrity Officer in Charge, Inspector Barry Dolan, said the RCMP Border Integrity Unit is committed to investigating criminal organisations who are involved in illegal activity that may pose a threat to the safety and security of Canada and the international community.

“Illicit drug importation/trafficking, as well as the proceeds deriving from these crimes, which allow offenders to expand their criminal enterprises, are important components of those investigations as they have a significant impact on the safety of our communities,” he said. 

“The RCMP is committed to working closely with all of our international partners in combatting organised crime. The success of this AFP-led investigation demonstrates the critical importance of these partnerships.

“The efforts and teamwork by the AFP, the RCMP Border Integrity and the CBSA have disrupted this organised crime network while protecting society from the immeasurable harm that is caused by these illicit and dangerous drugs.”

Victoria Police Crime Command Acting Assistant Commissioner Mick Frewen said the result highlights how the work of law enforcement agencies across the world prevents harm to the Victorian community.

“As this investigation shows, we are often dealing with organised crime syndicates that have significant reach both nationally and internationally,” he said.

“We want to make it as difficult as possible for these syndicates to bring harm to Victoria and create an environment where they should expect to be targeted and held to account.

“To be able to make these arrests and seizures at this time also highlights the continued local demand there is for a range of drugs even during the pandemic.

“Victoria Police will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure those who bring that harm to our state are held to account, and that these criminal syndicates are strongly and deliberately targeted.”

ABF Commander Enforcement Operations South James Watson said this operation is another example of how the ABF and its law enforcement partners work together to keep dangerous drugs off Australian streets.

 “Methamphetamine has a devastating effect on the community, which is why the ABF and our partner agencies are constantly on alert for illicit drugs at our borders,” Commander Watson said.

“No matter how criminals attempt to conceal their packages, the ABF has the skills, technology and the resources to detect these harmful substances and bring the criminals to justice.”

The men have been charged with the following offences:

A 37-year-old Sunbury man was charged with:

  • attempting to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs;
  • attempting to possess a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs;
  • committing an indictable offence whilst on bail.

A 29-year-old Keilor East man was charged with:

  • attempting to possess a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs;
  • attempting to traffic a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs.

A 33-year-old Bonnie Brook man was charged with:

  • attempting to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs;
  • attempting to possess a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs.

All three have been remanded in custody to appear before the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 23 March 2022. It is expected that further charges will be laid.