International drug syndicate disrupted by seven arrests in Melbourne

Police and border protection agencies have significantly disrupted an international criminal syndicate allegedly involved in the importation of illicit drugs into Victoria.

Seven men were arrested in Melbourne yesterday for their alleged role in attempting to import approximately 92 kilograms of cocaine into the city earlier this week. The drugs have an estimated street value of $30 million. Approximately $580,000 cash was also seized by police yesterday as part of the operation.

The operation was conducted by investigators from the Trident Taskforce, who have been investigating an international criminal syndicate for more than a year.

On Monday evening (26 June 2017), a cargo vessel arrived at the Port of Melbourne. The sea cargo container was taken to the Melbourne container examination facility where three suspicious black duffle bags were found concealed in a container from Panama.

Inside each of the bags were 26 blocks. The substance concealed within the blocks returned a positive result for cocaine.

Yesterday (29 June 2017), tactical officers from the Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police assisted Taskforce Trident investigators as they executed a number of search warrants across Melbourne. Police activity occurred in Docklands, Parkville, South Yarra, Essendon, Caroline Springs, Mernda, Sunshine West, and Carlton.

Seven men were arrested at various locations. They were:

  • a 29-year-old Canadian man;
  • a 33-year-old British man;
  • a 22-year-old Sunshine West man;
  • a 21-year-old Sunshine West man;
  • a 26-year-old St Albans man;
  • a 29-year-old Canadian man; and
  • a 25-year-old Sunshine North man.

The men have been charged with a number of offences related to the importation and attempted possession of commercial quantities of a border controlled drugs, and also money laundering offences.

The 29-year-old Canadian man has also been charged with dealing in money or property worth $100,000 or more, which was intended to become an instrument of crime.

AFP Commander John Beveridge, State Manager for Victoria and Tasmania, said police and border protection agencies played an important role in detecting and disrupting criminal activity related to the drug trade.

“We are working together with our state police, Commonwealth and international partners to disrupt this toxic trade,” Commander Beveridge said.

“We have excellent working relationships with our partners which enables the success of our disruption efforts. We are focused on keeping these drugs off the streets, but also bringing to account those who attempt to peddle this misery in our community.”

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana said the Trident Taskforce was a joint Commonwealth-funded maritime taskforce aimed at detecting and disrupting organised crime at the state’s waterfront.

“We are continually working with the maritime industry, and the industry response to Trident has been very positive since its inception in 2012,” Assistant Commissioner Fontana said.

“As well as the arrests of yesterday, this operation has led to arrests and seizures in other state jurisdictions and has caused significant disruption to an international drug syndicate operating across several countries. This has been a great collaborative effort by all agencies involved.

“Syndicates such as these are motivated by greed and have no regard to the significant amount of harm they cause the Victorian and Australian community.”

ABF Acting Assistant Commissioner, Strategic Border Command, James Watson said Operation Afloat was another win for the ABF and its law enforcement partners.

“This was a very sophisticated and well-planned attempt by a criminal entity to import a large quantity of cocaine into Victoria,” acting Assistant Commissioner Watson said.

“Despite the great lengths and extensive planning by this criminal entity, members of the Trident Taskforce, through a long investigation, have managed to thwart this attempt.”

AUSTRAC Acting Deputy CEO Operations John Visser said the financial intelligence agency was committed to supporting its law enforcement partners in the fight against serious and organised crime and protecting the Australian community.

“AUSTRAC used innovative analytical techniques to support the identification of individuals of interest and their financial networks,” he said.

The Trident Taskforce is a multi-agency effort comprised of members from the Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police, Australian Border Force, AUSTRAC, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, and the Australian Taxation Office.