Meth in plastic pallets seized in Australia, US, Hong Kong and New Zealand

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has charged three men in Sydney as part of an international investigation into a Mexican organised crime syndicate suspected of importing hundreds of kilograms of methamphetamine into Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Operation Eldia began in May, 2022, after several shipments of methamphetamine hidden in plastic pallets carrying various commodities as well as shipments of methamphetamine and cocaine hidden in electrical transformers were seized in Los Angeles, Sydney, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

It will be alleged 375kg of methamphetamine from five consignments seized by the AFP and its partners in Sydney and Los Angeles between April, 2022, and February, 2023, were sent from Los Angeles by this syndicate.

The AFP worked closely with the Australian Border Force (ABF), Department of Home Affairs, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Canberra to identify and disrupt the drug trafficking network of the organised crime syndicate.

It is alleged another 447kg of liquid methamphetamine and 120kg of cocaine hidden in shipments of electrical transformers and organised by this syndicate were seized in Hong Kong in February and March, 2022, while a further 106kg was seized in New Zealand in February, 2019. These shipments were suspected to have been destined for distribution in Australia.

A key breakthrough in the investigation occurred in February, 2023, when CBP officers found more than 85kg of methamphetamine hidden inside 13 plastic pallets in Los Angeles.

The 85kg methamphetamine seizure, which has an estimated Australian street value of more than $76 million, was reported to the AFP for investigation.

The methamphetamine was removed in Los Angeles and the plastic pallets were then delivered to Australia.

On their arrival in Sydney, AFP officers reconstructed the plastic pallets with an inert substance and conducted a controlled delivery in Sydney.

The AFP will allege two US nationals, aged 42 and 34, arrived in Sydney in April, 2023, from Fiji and the US to facilitate this importation.

A Sydney man, 40, was the alleged Australian based contact for the syndicate and the director of a fruit and groceries company operating in the Hornsby area of Sydney.

It will be alleged the 42-year-old man was the principal organiser of the importation, while the other US man allegedly organised the logistics in Australia, such as renting a storage unit, transporting the pallets and purchasing tools and scales.

The AFP delivered the plastic pallets to a storage facility in the south-western Sydney suburb of Bexley on 26 April, 2023. It is alleged the three men later transferred the pallets to a different storage facility in Pymble, on Sydney’s north shore.

On 27 April, 2023, the US nationals were allegedly seen removing dismantled pallets and garbage bags containing unknown items from the storage unit.

The AFP executed a search warrant at a unit in the Sydney suburb of Marsden Park later that day, where the US nationals were allegedly residing.

Police seized garbage bags allegedly containing the reconstructed packages of substituted drugs from the plastic pallets, and a mobile phone allegedly containing photos of the reconstructed pallets and glass beakers with an unknown substance in liquid.

The US men were arrested and charged with one count each of attempting to possess a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, namely methamphetamine, contrary to section 307.5 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The maximum penalty for this offence is 25 years’ imprisonment.

The AFP executed a further search warrant on 1 May, 2023, at a home in Newtown, linked to the Sydney man. Police seized a padlock and keys for a storage unit and electronic devices for further examination.

The Sydney man was arrested and charged with the same offence as the US nationals.

AFP Detective Superintendent Kristie Cressy said shared intelligence with international law enforcement partners was crucial to revealing the widespread operations of this drug trafficking syndicate.

“The relationship the AFP shares with its international law enforcement partners was crucial to obtaining and analyzing the intelligence that directly resulted in the seizure of 375kg of illicit drugs around the world,” she said.

“The arrest of three people here in Australia and their connection to a wider Mexican-based cartel gives us valuable insight into the operations of organised crime groups and will help us and our partners create a hostile environment for them to operate in.”

HSI Regional Attaché Ernest Verina said: “The international reach of organised crime is dismantled by global law enforcement partnerships like the one between the United States and Australia.”

“I commend the vital collaborative work of the law enforcement partners in their relentless efforts to keep the scourge of illicit drugs out of all of our communities.”

ABF Superintendent Elke West, said the operation exemplifies the commitment by law enforcement agencies across the globe in combatting organised crime.

“As always, ABF officers have delivered outstanding results through their support of this joint operation which has seen potential members of a crime syndicate charged,” Superintendent West said

“ABF are on the front line every single day ensuring Australia’s borders are protected from criminals attempting to import drugs and we work closely with law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of our community.”