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Foiled: Creative drug import attempts revealed

Organised criminal syndicates continue to be foiled in their attempts to import illicit drugs into Australia using sophisticated concealment methods, with more than 700 imports disrupted this year.

Between 1 January and 18 November 2022, Australian Border Force intercepted, and the AFP seized, 702 consignments, which were sent by air and sea cargo streams, and contained illicit drugs, including methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.

Some of the illicit drugs were found hidden in juke boxes, mini BBQ meat smoker machinespens, magnets and timber pallets. Illicit drugs were also located in containers declared as rat poison and insecticide. ABF referred the matters to the AFP, which seized the drugs and launched respective investigations.

In February, authorities uncovered 2 kilograms of cocaine concealed inside a consignment of ponchos and bikinis sent from South America to Perth. The cocaine was allegedly embedded in the fibres of the clothing.

In addition, attempts to import illicit substances within timber pallets was also identified as a trend. In February, Operation Wirraway led to the arrest of a Brisbane man, after 83kg of methamphetamine was allegedly detected inside hollowed-out timber pallets in Queensland.

In June, 2022, a Victorian Joint Organised Crime Task Force (JOCTF) investigation led to a thwarted drug import attempt in Melbourne with an estimated 45kg of cocaine concealed inside a juke box from Greece. Three people were later arrested with a number of luxury items seized, including two Mercedes-Benz vehicles, a Harley Davidson motorbike, luxury watches and a significant quantity of cash.

While a 42-year-old man became the sixth person arrested and charged in relation to an alleged criminal syndicate in Melbourne. The June arrest followed an alleged import of liquid cocaine hidden inside marker pens and smoke machines.

In another attempt in July, a New South Wales man was arrested after he allegedly attempted to import a firearm – a Glock style pistol – that was detected hidden inside a gaming console shipped from the US to Australia.

The AFP slammed the brakes on one alleged criminal syndicate that attempted to import 66kg of cocaine, worth about $23.7 million, into Perth. ABF officers detected the drugs hidden inside Mercedes-Benz car tyres sent from Switzerland. Four West Australians were arrested in July connection to Operation Dommeldange.

In November, the AFP seized about 1.1 tonnes of cocaine from two shipping containers labelled as rat poison and insecticide that arrived in Sydney from Panama. ABF officers examined the containers and found about 550kg of cocaine inside each one.

AFP Commander Kate Ferry said organised criminal syndicates continued to devise creative concealment methods to avoid detection from law enforcement.

“Unfortunately, Australia remains an attractive market for transnational serious organised criminal syndicates,” she said.

“We know that these syndicates are relentless in their attempts to flood our shores with their illicit substances and their sole motivation is greed and profit.

“The AFP and our state and Commonwealth law enforcement partners are under no illusions over the lengths criminals will go to in their attempts evolve their concealment methods in order to import harmful drugs into our country.

“Our message is clear: your efforts will fail – we are a step ahead. We are keeping watch and ready to act. We’re here to remind you that the AFP and its partners continue to target and disrupt your criminal operations and we will bring you to justice.”

ABF Commander James Copeman said ABF officers had seen it all when it came to creative attempts at concealing illicit drugs in attempts to bring them into the Australia.

“Our highly-trained officers have a wide range of capabilities at their disposal to locate concealments of illicit drugs, informed by intelligence and sophisticated technology, to target and detect illicit drugs at Australia’s border,” Commander Copeman said.

“There have been some significant detections throughout 2022, but this is a marathon, not a sprint and we remain focused on disrupting any attempt by criminal syndicates to make money off the misery and harm these drugs cause in our community.”