Drugs seized in new cars shipped to Australia

Border Operations 3/07/2023

Editor's note: Photos of this operation are available via Hightail

The AFP has charged two people over their alleged involvement in a transnational crime syndicate that imported 84kg of ketamine into Australia concealed inside two new commercial vans.  

The men, 28 and 29, appeared in Parramatta Local Court today (2 July, 2023) charged with attempting to possess a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs.

The men were both refused bail to appear again at Parramatta Local Court on Thursday (6 July).

Operation Meribel began in May, 2023, after the AFP received intelligence from law enforcement partners about a criminal syndicate allegedly importing drugs hidden inside commercial vans.  

Investigations identified a bulk cargo carrier transporting two new vehicles suspected to conceal the drugs which arrived in Melbourne on 15 May, 2023.

Australian Border Force (ABF) officers examined the vehicles on the vessel and allegedly found drugs concealed inside panels of the vehicles.

The AFP seized 79 plastic bags, allegedly containing the 84kg of ketamine, and replaced them with a harmless substance before they were delivered to their intended destination in NSW.

This amount of ketamine has an estimated wholesale value of $3,360,000.

Once the vessel arrived in NSW, the vehicles were transported to a Sydney car dealership, where one was later collected.

Police were monitoring the vans when they allege the men stole one of them – which contained about half of the substituted drugs – removed the packages, placed them into another vehicle and then abandoned the van.

It will be alleged police followed the men to the Sydney suburb of Yennora. On 1 July, 2023, the AFP followed the vehicle allegedly carrying the substituted drugs to Smithfield, where officers arrested the two men and executed search warrants on two vehicles.

The two men were subsequently charged with attempting to possess a commercial quantity of an unlawfully imported border controlled drug, namely ketamine.

The offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner Kate Ferry said preventing 84kg of ketamine from reaching Australian communities was a significant win in the fight against the international illicit drug trade and testament to the AFP's strong relationships with partners in Australia and overseas.

“Ketamine is a dangerous sedative known to be used illicitly as a 'date rape' drug. Its dissociative effects block sensory brain signals and can cause memory loss, feelings of being detached from one's body and the inability to perceive dangers," A/AC Ferry said.

“This operation shows transnational organised crime groups will send any substance they think they can make money from, they do not care about the harm they cause. These criminals pose a significant threat to Australia's economy, our security and our way of life.

“Investigations like these are a testament to the strong working relationships the AFP has with law enforcement agencies around the world and show our resolve to make a hostile environment for organised crime."

ABF Assistant Commissioner East Erin Dale said criminal groups were attempting to import dangerous drugs with increasing levels of audacity.

“This was, put simply, an outrageous attempt to import a highly dangerous substance that could have caused untold harm if let loose on the community," AC Dale said.

“Criminal groups continue to get bolder and more creative in their attempts to import these substances but results like this show that our sophisticated targeting and detection methods will bring them undone.  

“The border is an asset that holds immeasurable strategic value for our nation and that is why the ABF works alongside our valued partners day and night to ensure criminals fail in their many attempts to undermine its integrity."

The investigation into the organised crime syndicate responsible for this importation is ongoing. 

ABF Media Enquiries: (02) 6262 2211