Criminal syndicate dismantled and almost 500kg of methamphetamine and ephedrine seized in Sydney

An Australian criminal syndicate has been successfully disrupted after the arrest of man alleged to be a crucial component of the internationally linked group. 

The 26-year-old Sydney man along with a further three people will face court today, charged over the attempted importation of approximately 159 kilograms of methamphetamine, with a potential street value of up to $106.5 million, and 340 kilograms of the drug precursor ephedrine into Australia.

Australian Border Force (ABF) officers targeted three sea freight containers that arrived from China and were inspected over two days on 6-7 January. The containers held a number of bar stools and boxes of soup packets. ABF officers deconstructed the bar stools, and found a total of 159 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine concealed within the seat-backs. A further 340 kilograms of ephedrine was found concealed in the soup mix packets.

As a result of this detection, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) began an investigation, code-named Operation Serpia, with the assistance of the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the ongoing cooperation of the Chinese National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC).

The AFP investigation into the criminal group allegedly behind this large scale drug importation resulted in a controlled delivery of three separate cargo containers to three separate commercial addresses in Peakhurst and Kingsgrove.

Police intelligence identified a 57-year-old woman, a 45-year-old man and a 50-year-old man and on Thursday 21 January, the three people were arrested for their alleged role in the importation.

Late Thursday evening, a 26-year-old Sydney man was arrested at Narwee after the AFP conducted a further controlled delivery of a number of the bar stools.

Another man was also arrested during the operation and released without charge, pending further enquiries.

Police will allege that the 45-year-old man and 50-year-old man were employed to remove the drugs from the consignment, and some of the methamphetamine was intended for the 26-year-old Sydney man. 

On Thursday 21 January and Friday 22 January, the AFP conducted a number of search warrants across the suburbs of Sydney, seizing further evidence and intelligence relating to the importation.

The AFP estimates that 340 kilograms of the pre-cursor ephedrine could be used to manufacture up to a further 250 kilograms of methamphetamine. This amount of methamphetamine has a potential street value of $167.5 million.

AFP State Manager NSW, Commander Chris Sheehan, said this seizure and these arrests is the culmination of a sophisticated and resource intensive operation where our members have worked tirelessly to ensure those responsible are stopped from causing any more harm to the Australian community.

“The AFP’s long term strategy to combat methamphetamine in Australia is to target and focus on the international syndicates seeking to profit from the misery they inflict on the Australian community,” Commander Sheehan said.

Tim Fitzgerald, ABF NSW Regional Commander, said the significant seizure was the result of ABF intelligence analysts taking a small piece of information and building on it to identify three high risk containers being imported from China.

“Based on intelligence we identified a significant concealment of methamphetamine and ephedrine and our officers were able to disrupt this attempt to illegally import a very large amount of drugs,” Regional Commander Fitzgerald said.

In November 2015, Taskforce Blaze was established between the AFP and the Chinese National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) to investigate criminal syndicates trafficking methamphetamine into Australia.

AFP enquiries into this attempted importation are continuing and further arrests have not been ruled out.

All four will face the Sydney Central Local Court today (22 January 2015).

Summary of charges:

57-year-old woman, 45-year-old man and 50-year-old man:
• Conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, namely methamphetamine, contrary to section 307.1 by virtue of section 11.5 of the Criminal Code (Cth);
• Conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of a border controlled precursor, namely ephedrine, contrary to section 307.11 by virtue of section 11.5 of the Criminal Code (Cth); and
• Conspiracy to possess a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, namely methamphetamine, contrary to section 307.5 by virtue of section 11.5 of the Criminal Code (Cth).

26-year-old man:
• Attempting to possess a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, namely methamphetamine, contrary to section 307.5 by virtue of section 11.1 of the Criminal Code (Cth). This relates to the 1.6kg of substituted material in the two stools.

** High quality vision and images are available from the AFP Media team

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