Five men arrested and $77 million worth of heroin seized by ABF

Five men have been arrested in Western Australia over the importation of 77 kilograms of heroin, which Australian Border Force allegedly found in a consignment of industrial kitchen equipment which arrived from Malaysia.

It is believed to be the biggest heroin seizure in WA’s history.

Australian Federal Police and Western Australia Police Force, with the assistance of ABF, arrested the men, after ABF officers at the Perth container facility allegedly found the illicit drugs.

The consignment was targeted as a result of information provided from the ABF’s International Network, which works collaboratively with the AFP’s International Network to focus on offshore serious and organised crime groups targeting Australia.

After an x-ray allegedly uncovered anomalies in the consignment, ABF officers examined the items and allegedly found 220 blocks of heroin hidden inside cavities in the equipment.

The illicit drugs were removed by AFP officers before the consignment was released for collection, and it was delivered to a business premises in Bibra Lake.

Three wooden crates containing the substituted packages sat inside the warehouse unopened for a week, while the business was open and operating.

The premises was under surveillance when two men arrived at the business and the containers were opened.

Less than 20 minutes later, the two men carried black duffel bags to their car and drove away.

A short time later, police stopped the men’s car in a Coolbellup car park and allegedly found the black bags on the back seat of the vehicle.

A 47-year-old man and his 25-year-old son, from Thornlie, were in the front seats, while a 24-year-old man from New South Wales was in the back seat.

Police allege that when they opened the bags, they found the packages AFP forensics specialists had created to replace the seized heroin.

A few minutes after stopping the trio’s car, police intercepted a blue Camry they had allegedly seen driving in convoy with the trio’s vehicle after it left the Bibra Lake premises.

They questioned the 26-year-old driver, who had travelled to Perth a few days earlier with the 24-year-old man from the other vehicle.

Police say the two NSW men were staying in a city hotel and were planning to leave Perth.

Authorities also searched the Bibra Lake business premises of a 36-year-old Coolbellup man, who they will allege imported the illicit drugs.

He was arrested and charged with three offences:

  • Imported a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, namely heroin, contrary to section 307.1 of the Criminal Code (Cth);
  • attempted to traffic in a commercial quantity of controlled drugs, contrary to section 302.2 of the Criminal Code (Cth)
  • attempted to possess a commercial quantity of an unlawfully imported border controlled drug, contrary to section 307.5 of the Criminal Code (Cth).

AFP Western Commander John Tanti said the collaborative efforts of the three agencies had prevented drug traffickers from distributing heroin to potentially 770,000 people and causing widespread community harm.

“We know that illicit drug use causes a significant burden to the Australian economy, and had this importation of heroin made its way into the Australian community the estimated total social cost, for this seizure alone, is around $100 million – through crime, loss of productivity, emergency treatment and increased health care costs,” he said.

“Sadly there is a death in our community for approximately every two kilograms of heroin used. Therefore it is hoped that the main outcome of this operation is the preservation of an estimated 38 lives.”

Commander Tanti said based on waste water monitoring, this seizure of 77 kilograms of heroin represents 84 percent of the total amount of heroin consumed in WA during the period August 2019 to August 2020.

“The AFP and our law enforcement partners are working tirelessly to identify and outsmart syndicates trying to supply drugs into our communities,” he said.

ABF Commander Operations West James Copeman said this detection and resulting arrests are a great example of our strong and effective relationship with law enforcement agencies.

“In addition to officer intuition and risk profiling at our cargo ports of entry, we rely on intelligence sharing between law enforcement partners to search consignments of particular interest,” Commander Copeman said.

“Heroin is an especially harmful and destructive substance which can tear apart families and communities, it’s a huge success to see this large quantify has never made it onto our streets.”

WA Police Force Acting Commander Tony Longhorn, from State Crime Command, said the partnerships between state and national law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to deliver strong results for the community.

“Identifying and interrupting illicit drug supply networks at both the national and international level requires every law enforcement and intelligence agency to work together as closely as possible,” he said.

“Our partnerships allow critical intelligence to be shared instantly, meaning police on the frontline can respond immediately and have a greater chance of identifying and arresting local members of Serious and Organised Crime Groups before they even realise their plans have been compromised.

“Identifying and arresting the network operating in WA, including all facilitator groups and branches of the network in WA, is a priority outcome of the investigation for WA Police.

“The investigation doesn’t stop with the car, the driver or the warehouse, it’s criminal network who control the domestic distribution who we will now come after.

“The seizure of such a large amount of Heroin removes a significant amount of harm from our community and provides valuable intelligence regarding local criminal networks that will be further explored.”