MELBOURNE, Victoria, Australia - Chinese and Australian law enforcement agencies have made a major joint drug bust in Australia.
Four men have been arrested, two Australians, and 2 Chinese nationals, and 1.3 tonnes of the drug precursor ephedrine have been seized in Melbourne, Australia's second largest city.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigators arrested the four - a 53-year-old Wheeler's Hill man, a 55-year-old Box Hill man and two Chinese nationals, both aged 26 years old, in Melbourne on Tuesday. All four were formally charged , in the Melbourne Magistrate's Court on Wednesday.
The events were triggered by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) receiving intelligence from the Chinese National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) via Taskforce Blaze about a syndicate suspected to be importing commercial quantities of border controlled precursors into Melbourne.
As a result of the information, the AFP commenced an investigation to identify the Australian-based members of the syndicate who were allegedly planning to receive the shipment.
In mid-February, Australian Border Force (ABF) officers intercepted a container arriving from China, labelled as ceramic tiles and glue. ABF officers from the Melbourne Container Examination Facility examined the suspicious consignment to reveal 65 boxes, containing 260 bags of a white powder.
Presumptive testing returned a positive result for ephedrine, with a gross weight of 1,300 kilograms.
It is estimated 1.3 tonnes of ephedrine has the potential to make 922 kilograms of methamphetamine, with an estimated street value of approximately $691.5 million. This equates to more than 9.2 million street deals of methamphetamine.
The drugs were seized by the AFP and replaced with an inert substance, and a controlled delivery took place. The consignment was delivered to a residence in Box Hill North.
The Wheeler's Hill man was arrested at Melbourne International Airport as he attempted to board a flight to China on Tuesday morning, while the Box Hill man was arrested near a local shopping centre. It is alleged these men were facilitators for the syndicate responsible for the ephedrine importation.
The two Chinese nationals were arrested at the Box Hill North residence where the consignment was delivered. It is alleged their role was to assist the two facilitators and the syndicate in this importation. Search warrants were executed at the three houses associated with the men.
Another three search warrants were executed Wednesday morning on premises in the Melbourne suburbs of Balwyn, Doncaster East and Dandenong South.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Organised Crime Bruce Hill said Wednesday the arrests mark another milestone in the cooperation between Australian and Chinese law enforcement.
"In 2015, Australia and China took decisive action to address a common problem – the supply and demand of methamphetamine in the region. Since then, the Taskforce has resulted in the seizure of more than 22 tonnes of narcotics and precursor chemicals cumulatively between Australia and China," Assistant Commissioner Hill said Wednesday.
"The strength of this partnership is clear in operations like this, which would not have been possible without the close cooperation we have experienced in this investigation."
Deputy Director General JIN Xiao Guo from Guangdong Narcotics Control Bureau said the success of this investigation showcases the excellent investigative work and dedication of officers working in Taskforce Blaze in Guangdong Province.
"This taskforce has become a role model for other countries, proving the most effective manner to combat transnational drug crime is through strengthened international law enforcement cooperation," he said Wednesday.
ABF Victoria Regional Commander, Craig Palmer, said that the significant seizure and arrests once again highlighted the outcomes that can be achieved working with law enforcement partners both internationally and within Australia.
"The ABF is committed to detecting and disrupting illegal drugs at the border before they cause harm on the Australian community. International criminal networks attempting to import these dangerous substances need to understand that we work closely with partner agencies to identify their illicit activities." Regional Commander Palmer said Wednesday.
The men from Wheeler's Hill man and Box Hill were charged with importing commercial quantities of border controlled precursors. The maximum penalty for this offence is 25 years imprisonment.
The remaining two men were charged with attempt to import commercial quantities of border controlled precursors. The maximum penalty for this offence is also 25 years imprisonment.
Taskforce Blaze is a historic agreement between the AFP and the Chinese National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) to combat the manufacture and exportation of ice, which was recently extended until 2020.