$94 Million Cocaine Import Plot Foiled In Brisbane

A Victorian man has been charged for his alleged involvement in a criminal syndicate that imported 289kg of cocaine into Queensland from Papua New Guinea and impersonated a legitimate company to try to avoid detection.

Investigators from Taskforce Venator, which comprises the AFP and Queensland Police Service (QPS), arrested and charged the man, 20, on Friday (12 April, 2024) as part of a joint investigation with the Australian Border Force (ABF).

The investigation began on 9 April, 2024, after the ABF identified an air cargo consignment arriving on a flight into Brisbane which was suspected to have used the altered details of a legitimate company, a practice known as ‘piggybacking’.

ABF and Taskforce Venator investigators examined the two pallets of cargo after its arrival and located dozens of rectangular solid blocks, which returned a presumptive positive result for cocaine. The cargo was described as gravel mix water purifier and drill bits, but the boxes contained only 248 packages of cocaine stacked among shredded paper and bubble wrap.

Police seized the cocaine and replaced it with a harmless substance before allowing the consignment to be collected. It was taken to a freight warehouse, where the man, from Cranbourne West, allegedly collected it on Friday (12 April), and took it to a short-term rental property in Strathpine.

Police allege the man opened one of the boxes at the house and was arrested as he left the property a short time later.

He has been charged with one count of attempting to possess a commercial quantity of an unlawfully imported border controlled drug, contrary to sections 11.1 and 307.5(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

He is expected to appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court on 3 May, 2024 after he was refused bail when he faced court for the first time on Saturday (13 April, 2024).

AFP Detective Superintendent Adrian Telfer said the seizure and arrest were a testament to the close working relationship between the AFP and its law enforcement partners.

“This criminal syndicate hoped it could fly under the radar of law enforcement and profit from the misery of drug addiction by allegedly using details of a legitimate company for the import,” Detective Superintendent Telfer said.

“However a vigilant border industry worker raised suspicions about the consignment and authorities were able to prevent these drugs from reaching the community.

“An import of this size could have accounted for at least 289,000 individual street deals of cocaine, which can cause significant havoc and harm to the Australian community.

“We’re now working with our law enforcement partners offshore, including in PNG, to identify all those involved in this importing plot.

“The AFP and partners will continue to make Australia a hostile environment for criminal syndicates attempting to smuggle and profit from harmful drugs, at the expense of the Australian people.”

ABF Acting Commander Jim Ley said the seizure was a clear demonstration that law enforcement agencies would not only disrupt but also dismantle these criminal syndicates.

“The impact that we have when conducting these joint operations is significant, and the Australian community will continue to see results like this,” Acting Commander Ley said.

“Preventing these harmful narcotics from entering the community remains our priority and our officers are committed to working both domestically and overseas to combat those that intend to bring harm to our communities through smuggling.

“My message to drug traffickers is simple; this is not over. With industry support alongside law enforcement partners, we will be relentless in our pursuit of you.”

Queensland Police Service Detective Acting Superintendent Tim Leadbetter, from the QPS Organised Crime Gangs Group, said this was another example of cooperation with partners working on the threat of organised crime and attacking the damage that it caused our community.

“Through the sharing of capability, resources and knowledge, the Queensland Police Service (QPS) continues to develop partnerships to deal with syndicates that threaten the safety of our community,” Detective Acting Superintendent Leadbetter said.

“The threat posed by organised crime involves all crime classes including domestic violence, child protection, property crime and financial crime, as well as offences of violence.

“Operations like this have significant impact on crime and will enhance community safety.

“The QPS is proud to work with our partners and will continue to do so to reach common goals.”

Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary Commissioner David Manning acknowledged the importance of enhanced regional cooperation to combat the scourge of illicit drugs.

“While these drugs may have been destined for the Australian market, when organised criminal groups attempt to use Papua New Guinea as a transhipment point, they inflict untold misery on our people,” Commissioner Manning said.

“Drugs are syphoned off and sold to our people and the violence that accompanies this trade leaves its mark on our communities.

“We look to closer co-operation with traditional and emerging partners on these transhipment issues. We are working more broadly with our partners in the Asia-Pacific to prevent the spread of drug use in our country.

“We look to our partners and those end-user markets, to expand our regional capacity to detect the production and movement of drugs.”

Taskforce Venator comprises the AFP and Queensland Police Service and its role is to investigate, prosecute and disrupt offending by Transnational Serious Organised Crime (TSOC) entities and Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMCG) that impacts significantly on Queensland and Australian interests.

/Public Release. View in full here.