Joint operation leads to four arrests after 400kg of ‘ice’ located in hot chilli sauce import
Four men have been arrested over the importation of 400kg of methylamphetamine, which was detected by Australian Border Force (ABF) concealed in bottles of sriracha imported from the USA.
In September 2018, the State Crime Command’s Organised Crime Squad and the NSW Crime Commission established Strike Force Diffey to investigate coordinated money laundering across Sydney and the importation and supply of illicit drugs into NSW.
On Tuesday 15 October 2019, ABF officers targeted an air cargo consignment which had recently arrived at a Sydney freight depot from the United States.
The consignment, which was declared to contain hot chilli sauce, was examined by ABF officers who noted inconsistencies.
During a subsequent deconstruction, it was found to contain 768 bottles of sriracha chilli sauce, with presumptive testing returning a positive indicator for methylamphetamine (ice).
A preliminary forensic analysis determined the bottles contained about 400kg of methylamphetamine, which has an estimated potential street value of more than $300 million.
Strike Force Diffey investigators, with assistance from Australian Federal Police and ABF, seized the consignment and conducted a controlled delivery.
As a result of inquiries, a 36-year-old man was arrested by strike force detectives outside a home at Plumpton just before 2pm on Sunday 20 October 2019.
About 6pm the next day (Monday 21 October 2019), detectives arrested two Victorian men – aged 30 and 34 – in the carpark of a hotel in Sydney’s CBD.
Shortly after, police searched a vehicle in the carpark and seized eight boxes containing bottles of sriracha, box cutters, moving bags and gardening gloves.
A search warrant was also executed at a hotel suite, where police seized 26 boxes of sriracha and four mobile phones.
The men were all charged with attempt to possess a commercial quantity unlawful import: border-controlled drug and large commercial drug supply.
It will be alleged in court that the 36-year-old Plumpton man accessed the consignment at Wetherill Park, before transporting it to a storage facility at Minchinbury.
It will also be alleged the Victorian men accessed the consignment at Minchinbury, before transporting it to a hotel on Kent Street, Sydney CBD.
The Plumpton man was refused bail and appeared at Mt Druitt Local Court on Monday 21 October 2019, where he was formally refused bail to re-appear at the same court on Monday 16 December 2019.
The Victorian men were both refused bail and appeared at Downing Centre Local Court on Tuesday 22 October 2019, where they were refused bail to re-appear at Central Local Court on Tuesday 17 December 2019.
Following further investigations, strike force detectives executed a search warrant at Edensor Park about 7am today (Thursday 31 October 2019).
A fourth man, aged 45, was arrested outside the home and taken to Fairfield Police Station, where he is expected to be charged.
State Crime Commander, Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, said the results of joint investigations have disrupted the activities of this criminal syndicate.
“This has been a complex investigation and we know the methylamphetamine in this import was headed for a clandestine lab in the Sydney Metropolitan area for the extraction process to occur,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Smith said.
“We will not stop with the arrests of these four men who are key members of the network. We will conduct further investigations with our law enforcement partners to identify other people linked to the group.”
Acting ABF Regional Commander for NSW, Matt O’Connor, said the seizure had prevented approximately four million hits of ice hitting the streets.
“Methamphetamine, or ice, has a devastating effect on the community every single day – and the ABF will continue working with our domestic law enforcement partners to stop those who try to import this life destroying drug,” Commander O’Connor said.
“This detection should serve as a warning to criminal groups that no matter how clever you think you are being in the way that you attempt to conceal and move your drugs, our officers have the skills, technology and the resources to find them and track down the people who are attempting to bring them in.”
AFP Commander Organised Crime, Kirsty Schofield, said the outcome shows the impact of Australian agencies working together to combat organise crime.
“Police know too well the human cost of methylamphetamine and the illicit drug trade,” Commander Schofield said.
“This outcome, which has come about through the expertise and hard work of multiple domestic agencies, has spared countless Australians the pain that would have been caused by these dangerous drugs. It also serves as warning to people involved in the supply and distribution of illicit drugs – law enforcement will find you.
“Our officers have also engaged with United States authorities via our liaison network to undertake enquires regarding the source of the importation.”
Investigations under Strike Force Diffey are ongoing.