SYDNEY, Australia - Federal and state agencies in Australia and overseas have had a major breakthrough in a weeks-long investigation into the smuggling of Cocaine into Australia from Mexico.
As a culmination of the investigation, search warrants were executed on two homes in suburban Sydney on Tuesday which resulted in two arrests and the seizure of a massive 233 kilograms of Cocaine, with a street value of $104.85 million.
The scale of the alleged crime is such that the drugs seized would have served more than 1.1 million drug users.
The investigation that led to the bust only commenced two months ago in September. Australian Border Force (ABF) officers at the Sydney Container Examination Facility say they targeted a consignment of aluminium alloy ingots that had arrived from Mexico.
The consignment consisted of 18 pallets, each carrying 105 ingots. ABF officers X-rayed the shipment noting anomalies.
A subsequent examination revealed a white powder secreted within the aluminum ingots, presumptive testing gave a positive indication for Cocaine.
Further examination by Australian Federal Police (AFP) forensics revealed 233 kilograms of cocaine concealed within the shipment.
The concealment of the drugs, inside aluminum ingots, was complex and well-constructed in an attempt to defeat detection by authorities.
A joint agency investigation was commenced, led by the AFP and combining the resources of the ABF and New South Wales Police, State Crime Command Drug and Firearms Squad, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, and the New South Wales Crime Commission, with the assistance of international partners U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations .
As a result of extensive investigations, the joint investigation team identified two suspects who police allege were involved attempting to receive the consignment.
On Tuesday, search warrants were executed at houses and on vehicles in the Sydney suburbs of Auburn and Castle Hill. A 61-year-old UK citizen and a 49-year-old Auburn man were arrested as a result.
During the search at Auburn, police seized a small quantity of aluminum ingots, keys to a storage facility allegedly used to take delivery of the shipment, and electronic devices.
The men were schedule to appear before Sydney Central Local Court on Wednesday.
AFP Commander Kirsty Schofield, Manager Organised Crime, said the joint investigation would not have been possible without significant transnational cooperation.
"We are working closer than ever with Mexican authorities, with an AFP liaison officer working in country to ensure we can work at the source to stop the supply offshore," Commander Schofield said Wednesday.
"Organised crime networks see Australia as an attractive market to target, due to the high demand for drugs in this country. They don't care about the lives that are impacted through the violent drug supply chain along the way, or the vicious cycle of addiction they are fueling in our communities."
ABF Commander Enforcement Command, Graeme Grosse, said the ABF and it's federal, state and international law enforcement partners were awake to the many creative methods drug smugglers attempted to get their illicit cargo across the Australian border.
"We have the intelligence capability and the technology to find sophisticated concealments like this, no matter how professional they look," Commander Grosse said.
"Through close working relationships with our law enforcement partners both here and overseas, we continue to achieve significant operational outcomes, smashing illicit drug smuggling syndicates and tackling the growing demand for harmful substances such as cocaine in Australia."
NSW Police Force State Crime Commander, Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, said the National Strategy to fight transnational, serious and organised crime provides a framework for law enforcement to work together to combat activities such as drug trafficking.
"The joint operation activity demonstrates the information sharing and high-level of cooperation between law enforcement agencies to disrupt organised crime groups," he said.
"We will continue to gather intelligence and warn any criminal network considering importing a border controlled drug you face a life sentence."
The charges the two men face carry a maximum penalty fof life imprisonment.