A NSW man and a German national with suspected links to organised crime have been charged by the AFP for allegedly importing 320kg of cocaine into Western Australia.
A multi-agency investigation led to the arrest of the men, aged 37 and 49, in Port Hedland in the Pilbara on Sunday morning.
The older man was arrested in a campervan where investigators allegedly found the illicit drugs, which were in 320 individual blocks, each weighing about one kilogram. Those blocks were in eight packages wrapped in plastic.
Police believe the cocaine, worth at least $128 million, was destined for WA and other states.
The operation involving the AFP, Western Australia Police Force (WAPF), Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and Australian Border Force (ABF) is another blow against organised crime groups preying on Western Australia.
Police will allege the 37-year-old, a German national, flew into Australia earlier this month to help retrieve the drugs.
He allegedly met a 49-year-old NSW man in Port Hedland and the pair travelled to Karratha, about 240km away, where they hired a 6.5-metre boat.
They drove it to Port Hedland before later launching it from a local boat ramp and heading about 28 kilometres out to sea on Thursday and Friday evenings.
Police suspect the pair used the runabout to collect the cocaine from the ocean off the Pilbara mining town.
The men's boat was seen idling close to an international bulk shipping carrier while offshore and investigations are continuing into suspicions that cargo vessel was used to import the drugs into WA waters from overseas.
The bulk shipping carrier was boarded by the WAPF Tactical Response Group and then searched by ABF, AFP and WAPF officers, and investigations continue.
The men have each been charged with:
- importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, namely cocaine, contrary to section 307.1(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth). The maximum penalty for this offence is life imprisonment.
- failing to comply with an order issued under section 3LA of the Crimes Act 1914, contrary to section 3LA(6) of the Crimes Act 1914. The maximum penalty for this offence is 10 years' imprisonment.
AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner John Tanti said the outcomes should send a strong message to organised crime groups looking to import drugs into Australia.
“Australia is no safe haven for criminals. We are coming after you and we will not stop," Acting Assistant Commissioner Tanti said.
“This amount of cocaine could have been sold to about 320,000 Australians as if broken down into 1g street level deals and put about $128 million into the pockets of the criminals involved in its distribution.
“Western Australia is not immune to large illicit drug imports, and for that reason the AFP is working closely with WA Police and other agencies to unleash maximum damage to the criminal environment.
“Australian law enforcement and our partners continue to successfully disrupt transnational crime, and the AFP will continue to collaborate with agencies overseas to investigate and disrupt the supply of illicit drugs from around the world into Australia.
“Illicit drugs make our communities less safe, including for motorists who can be indiscriminately killed by a drug-affected driver.
“There is a perception by some in the community that cocaine is a safe drug. Let me be clear – it is not. Just as importantly, the transnational serious organised criminals who target Australia are undermining our national security, economy and social security system.
“We know drug trafficking can lead to drug wars in our streets, and often law-abiding citizens can be the collateral damage to that violence. Illicit drug trafficking can also bankroll other abhorrent crimes, such as human trafficking and sexual servitude."
WA Police Force Acting Commissioner Col Blanch said the weekend seizure was further evidence that law enforcement agencies worked closely together to make Western Australia unwelcome to drug traffickers.
“Illicit drugs cause immense harm in our community and WA Police Force will use every policing capability at its disposal to target the drug traffickers who seek to profit from the misery of others," Mr Blanch said.
“Our specialist officers targeted this specific importation from the land, the sea and the air, and the hunt is not over yet – we will continue to pursue anyone linked to this syndicate or indeed any other drug trafficking organisation no matter where they hide across the world."
ABF Commander James Copeman said the ABF maintained a strong presence along the Western Australian coast and offshore to contribute to a multi-layered, multi-agency approach to border protection.
“Our highly trained officers use a range of enforcement capabilities, information sharing and intelligence with our partners, while our aerial, maritime and land surveillance help protect the Australian community by disrupting those seeking to import illicit drugs," Commander Copeman said.
ACIC National Manager South Operations Damien Appleby said the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission worked tirelessly with partners to make Australia a hostile place for criminal syndicates and to combat the supply of these dangerous drugs.
“Using our four pillars of core collection capabilities—coercive powers, technical intelligence, human intelligence and data analytics—we assist our partners to disrupt global to local criminal networks and to produce world-class transnational organised crime insights," he said.