A joint-agency police investigation into the importation of prohibited drugs has resulted in the seizure of more than $2.5 million in cash and more than 300kg of methylamphetamine and cocaine.
In 2021, detectives from the NSW Police Force’s State Crime Command, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), established Operation Phobetor to target and disrupt serious organised crime in NSW.
As part of investigative inquiries under Strike Forces Cunich and Eos, investigators identified several transnational organised criminal networks (OCNs) working collaboratively to import illicit drugs from several countries into NSW.
During the course of this investigation, Operation Phobetor detectives – with assistance from Australian Border Force (ABF) officers, United States Homeland Security Investigations and other international law enforcement partners – have intercepted and seized about 220kg of methylamphetamine in Los Angeles, bound for Australia, about 60kg of cocaine at a Sydney freight depot concealed inside pieces of machinery, and $960,000 cash. It’s believed the cocaine seized was sourced in Germany.
As part of ongoing inquiries, strike force investigators – assisted by the Raptor Squad, Public Order and Riot Squad, Operational Support Group, and AFP crime scene and national operations members – executed 16 Commonwealth and State search warrants at properties and businesses in Picton, Earlwood, Hoxton Park, Belfield, Cabarita, Rockdale, Penhurst, Guildford, Greenacre, Smithfield, Fairfield, Liverpool and Wetherill Park from about 6am yesterday (Wednesday 23 November 2022).
During the warrants, police located and seized more than $1.2 million cash, a rifle, ammunition, gold bullion, cigarettes, cocaine, MDMA, cannabis, steroids, electronic devices, cryptocurrency wallets, and documents. All seized items will undergo further forensic examination.
Five men – aged 30, 33, 38, 41, and 44 – were arrested during the warrant operation.
A subsequent controlled delivery was conducted in Sydney about 8.30am, with Tactical Operations Unit officers arresting two men – aged 28 and 32 – during a vehicle stop at the intersection of the Hume Highway and Chapel Road, Bankstown. A further $1.4 million was seized as part of this operation.
The 33-year-old man was arrested at a Picton address and taken to Narellan Police Station. He was charged with nine offences, including supply commercial quantity prohibited drug, knowingly deal with proceeds of crime, possess prohibited drug and six counts of supply indictable quantity prohibited drug. He was refused bail to appear at Picton Local Court yesterday, where he was formally bail refused to reappear at the same court today (Thursday 24 November 2022).
The 38-year-old man was arrested at an Earlwood address and taken to Burwood Police Station. He was charged with eight offences, including four counts of conspiracy to commit offence import commercial quantity of border-controlled drug, two counts of deal with property proceeds of crime, and one count each of commit an offence for the benefit of organisation, and participate criminal group contribute criminal activity. He was refused bail to appear at Burwood Local Court yesterday, where he was formally bail refused to reappear at the same court on Wednesday 18 January 2023.
The 44-year-old man was arrested at Sefton and taken to Bankstown Police Station. He was charged with two counts of import commercial quantity of border-controlled drug, and one count of commit offence for benefit of organisation. He will appear in Bankstown Local Court today (Thursday 24 November 2022).
The 41-year-old man was arrested at a business in Wetherill Park. He was taken to Liverpool Police Station and charged with three counts of import commercial quantity of border-controlled drug, and one count of commit offence for benefit of organisation. He was refused bail to appear at Liverpool Local Court today (Thursday 24 November 2022).
The 30-year-old man was arrested at a home in Belfield and was taken to Campsie Police Station. He was charged with conspiracy to commit offence import commercial quantity of border-controlled drug, and commit offence for benefit of organisation. He was refused bail to appear at Bankstown Local Court today (Thursday 24 November 2022).
The 28-year-old man arrested during a vehicle stop was taken to Bankstown Police Station and charged with supply large commercial quantity prohibited drug. He was refused bail to appear at Bankstown Local Court.
The 32-year-old man was released pending further inquiries.
Homeland Security Investigations officers executed a simultaneous search warrant in Los Angeles and arrested a 23-year-old man.
Police located and seized 128kg of methylamphetamine, 55kg of crystal MDMA, 18kg of cocaine, and approximately $15,000USD.
NSW Police Force Organised Crime Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Peter Faux, said co-offending across criminal syndicates was becoming more prevalent within NSW, and in jurisdictions across the country.
“Organised criminal networks are usually notoriously competitive for control in the illicit drug trade; however, what we have seen through this operation and other intelligence, is that some members of OCNs are working collaboratively to bring drugs into our country,” Det Supt Faux said.
“While the different methods of concealment aren’t new, it’s the level of involvement from various criminal syndicates to bring in shipments which is of note.
“Police will allege in court, the 33-year-old Earlwood man used his employment at a logistics company to monitor consignments arriving into Sydney.
“We will continue to work collaboratively with our federal and international counterparts to identify these supply chains and disrupt their business model,” Det Supt Faux said.
AFP Commander Kate Ferry said the AFP’s international network helped link investigators with overseas law-enforcement partners, allowing Operation Phobetor to maximise the damage inflicted on this syndicate.
“We see organised crime groups acting with impunity, believing that operating in multiple countries will protect them from police. They couldn’t be more wrong,” Cmdr Ferry said.
“This operation is an example of law enforcement at its best: agencies confronting organised crime head on, no matter where in the world they are operating, and working together to cause maximum damage to their illegal business.
“These criminals undermine our national security and our economy. They make our suburbs and roads less safe. The way Australians live will be changed if illicit drug use is not greatly reduced and if these serious criminals are not brought to justice,” Cmdr Ferry said.
ACIC National Manager North Operations, Dash Sivakumaran, congratulated the partners for this significant disruption.
“The ACIC works tirelessly with our partners – both in Australia and offshore – to share intelligence and create opportunities for partners which culminates in the disruption of criminal networks who profit through the harm they cause to the Australian community,” Mr Sivakumaran said.
ABF Commander Susan Drennan said these arrests demonstrate the ABF’s close working relationships with law-enforcement agencies, domestic and abroad, to combat serious organised crime and keep Australians safe.
“ABF officers work hard every day using sophisticated methods to detect illicit substances at the border. We will find them no matter how well hidden these criminals think they are,” Cmdr Drennan said.
U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Attaché Ernest Verina said this was a great example of international partners working together to target the illicit drug trade on a global scale.
“The investigation that led to these arrests is a great example of global collaboration focused on preventing illegal drugs from entering our communities.
“HSI will continue working with Australian law-enforcement partners to bring to justice those who traffic dangerous narcotics across our borders.”
Investigations under Strike Forces Cunich and Eos are continuing.
Anyone with information about the importation of illicit drugs that may assist investigators is urged to contact Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000 or https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au. Information is treated in strict confidence. The public is reminded not to report information via NSW Police social media pages.