In one of the largest single seizures of ephedrine in Australian history, a multi-agency investigation resulted in a major seizure of 274kg of the banned substance hidden in a shipment of rice from India into Melbourne. Three people have been arrested in Australia and one person in India on charges for their alleged involvement in the importation and intended distribution of the substance.
The joint operation involved the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Department of Agriculture and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS).
Among the arrested are two Canadian nationals and one Australian man. They have been charged with supply a commercial quantity of a prohibited drug contrary to section 25 (2) of the Drugs Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW).
The operation began on 16 July 2013 following the examination of a consignment that arrived into the Port of Melbourne from India containing bags labelled as 'basmati rice'.
A press release issued by the Australia Federal Police said, the consignment, which contained an estimated 3,600 bags of rice, was subjected to a physical bio-security examination by Department of Agriculture. Officers identified a crystalline substance loosely distributed throughout the rice in some of the bags. The ACBPS subsequently confirmed the substance was ephedrine.
Following the finding, on July 24, the AFP commenced a controlled delivery of the consignment to a storage facility in the Melbourne suburb of Springvale, the release said.
Later on Aug 5, the consignment was transported to a storage facility in the Sydney suburb of Fairfield.
Subsequently on Sept 23, AFP officers executed nine search warrants in Melbourne and Sydney. Evidence seized during the search operation included $255,000 in cash. Following the search, three people were arrested and subsequently charged.
Following these arrests, Australian authorities intimated Indian agencies. Acting on the information provided through the AFP International Network, Indian agencies arrested an Indian national, the release added.
The Indian national is alleged to be responsible for organising the ephedrine and sending the consignment to Australia. Investigations into the importation are continuing, the release said.
The press release noted that the estimated 274kg of ephedrine could be used to manufacture up to 200 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine. Dependent on purity this would have an estimated potential street value of up to $200 million, the release said.
AFP National Manager Crime Operations Ian McCartney termed the operation as a testament to the combined efforts of the AFP, international and domestic partner agencies in stopping criminals from importing drugs into Australia.
"The AFP and partner agencies have dismantled this multinational syndicate and significantly stemmed the flow of narcotics on to Australian streets. The syndicate is indicative of the nature of criminal enterprises that exist only to make a profit, regardless of the harmful effect these drugs will have on Australians once they hit our streets," National Manager Crime Operations McCartney said.
"Our best weapon in combating these multinational syndicates is close collaboration between partner agencies here and overseas. This operation is a fantastic example of how these collaborations can lead to great results that deliver for the community."
Department of Agriculture First Assistant Secretary for Border Compliance Tim Chapman said the seizure demonstrated the cooperative approach border agencies took to combating illicit activity.
"While the Department of Agriculture's focus is on safeguarding Australia from exotic pests and diseases, we always watch for illegal activities and share intelligence," Mr Chapman said.
ACBPS National Director Compliance and Enforcement, Karen Harfield, said the success of this investigation sends a strong message to both Australian-based and international drug syndicates.
"Once again this highlights the ongoing work conducted by partner agencies at the border. I would like to thank all of the officers involved in this investigation," Harfield said.
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