Alleged transnational drug trafficker charged, linked to cocaine plots in Queensland, NSW and WA

The AFP has charged a Brisbane man, who is alleged to be the Australian leader of a transnational organised crime organisation, over a botched 900kg cocaine import that led to bricks of the drug washing up on NSW beaches.

The man, 36, is accused of being the head of a domestic crime network and directing the collection and distribution of multiple multi-hundred kilogram and multi-tonne importations of cocaine and other illicit drugs into Australia, primarily using sea routes.

He was arrested in Brisbane’s northern suburbs yesterday afternoon, (17 April, 2024) and is due to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court today (18 April, 2024) to face seven charges relating to the importation of commercial quantities of drugs and dealing in proceeds of crime. He faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Operation Groot – a major joint investigation under the Queensland Joint Organised Crime Taskforce (QJOCTF), which includes the AFP, Queensland Police Service (QPS), Australian Border Force, the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission began in early 2023.

The Aspley man was also charged with a further 12 offences for allegedly using violence and threats to collect debts and intimidate rivals by engaging criminal associates to assault, firebomb, shoot at and extort his customers.

The QJOCTF executed further search warrants last night and this morning, (18 April, 2024) across Brisbane and Hervey Bay. The QJOCTF is continuing its investigation and more arrests are possible.

It is alleged the Aspley man used dedicated encrypted communication platforms to contract out drug pick-up jobs and try to conceal his criminal activities from law enforcement.

It is alleged he used the handles WANTED and John Dillinger, the same name as the notorious US gangster during the Great Depression.

The AFP will allege the man played a significant role in importing almost two tonnes of cocaine in just three ventures in the past year, which have an estimated total street value of $683 million.

It is alleged the man, 36, was also responsible for a failed plot to import 900kg of cocaine off the coast of Queensland’s Moreton Island in November 2023. That venture resulted in packages of drugs washing up on beaches along the NSW coast in late 2023 and into 2024 after those involved were allegedly unable to collect the drugs from the ocean.

So far about 256kg of the suspected 900kg has been seized by NSW Police Force after washing up on the shore.

Police will also allege the man, 36, facilitated the importation and collection of about 560kg of cocaine into WA’s Mid-West region in August 2023, which was seized by authorities. It is alleged the drugs were dropped overboard from a bulk cargo carrier before being collected from the ocean and brought to shore in the coastal town of Kalbarri.

Six men have already been charged over the 565kg WA importation, with the sixth extradited from Queensland to WA on 21 March, 2024 to face charges.

The AFP also suspect the Aspley man was involved in conspiracies to import a further 20 tonnes of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin into Australia since late 2023. Police are also investigating his suspected involvement in the trafficking of cocaine, MDMA and methamphetamine across Australia between 2022 and 2024.

AFP Superintendent Adrian Telfer said the charges should serve as a warning to serious offenders that they would be actively targeted by law enforcement.

“The AFP and our partners are driven to strike at all levels of organised crime groups, and ensure that we make it harder for other criminals to take their place,” Superintendent Telfer said.

“That means we will focus on the heads of syndicates and those who work with them.

“Every time someone buys cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine in Australia, they are funding organised crime gangs who are responsible for violence here and around the world.

“I would like to thank our partner agencies for their critical roles in this operation, and I would also like to thank the NSW Police Force for their crucial assistance after cocaine washed up on their state’s shores.

“There was understandably community concern when cocaine washed up on beaches – beaches where our children play, swim and eat. The AFP and our partners dedicated a significant amount of resources to ensure we have kept the public safe and brought those allegedly responsible before the courts.”

QPS Detective Acting Superintendent Brad Phelps said the arrest was the result of a united front in the fight against organised criminal activity.

“This result is a testament to the dedicated work by officers on the ground and the continued collaboration between partner agencies,” Detective A/Superintendent Phelps said.

“By using all available resources and intelligence we have dismantled a highly sophisticated and organised crime operation, profiting at the expense of the community.

“Stopping these drugs from hitting the streets is a significant victory, not just for law enforcement, but for all Queenslanders who could have been impacted by the wider harm these drugs can cause to families and loved ones.”

ABF Superintendent Troy Sokoloff 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,” Superintendent Sokoloff 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 who intend to bring harm to our communities through smuggling.

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

ACIC National Manager North Operations Boyd Doherty said that this operational success is a great example of how law enforcement and intelligence agencies were working together to combat the threat of serious and organised crime groups.

“Multi-agency collaboration is key to disrupt criminal networks and protect Australian communities from the harm of illicit drugs, and we will continue to share mission critical intelligence with our QLD JOCTF partners to achieve this,” he said.

Anyone with information that may assist QCJOCTF is urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

The QJOCTF is a multi-agency taskforce comprised of the AFP, QPS, ABF, ACIC, Australian Taxation Office, AUSTRAC and the Department of Home Affairs. The role of the QJOCTF is to investigate transnational serious and organised crime threats impacting Australia.

Details of the Aspley man’s charges:

  • Two counts of importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, namely cocaine, contrary to section 307.1(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);

  • One count of conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, namely cocaine and heroin, contrary to sections 307.1(1) and 11.5(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);

  • One count of trafficking a commercial quantity of controlled drugs, namely cocaine, methamphetamine and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, contrary to subsection 302.2(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);

  • One count of directing activities of a criminal organisation, contrary to subsection 390.6(2) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);

  • One count of dealing in the proceeds of crime – money or property worth $1,000,000 or more, contrary to section 400.3(1) and 400.12 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth); and

  • One count of using a telecommunications network with the intention to commit a serious offence, contrary to section 474.14(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

  • Three counts of arson, contrary to section 461(1)(a) of the Criminal Code 1899 (QLD);

  • One count of unlawful dealing with explosives or noxious substances, contrary to section 470(a) of the Criminal Code 1899 (QLD);

  • One count of robbery, contrary to section 411(1) of the Criminal Code 1899 (QLD);

  • Four counts of wilful damage, contrary to section 469(1) of the Criminal Code 1899 (QLD);

  • One count of carry/place dangerous goods in/on vehicle, contrary to section 317A(1)(a) of the Criminal Code 1899 (QLD);

  • One count of dangerous conduct with a weapon, contrary to section 58(2) of the Weapons Act 1990 (WA); and

  • One count of enter premises with intent to commit indictable offence, contrary to section 421(1) of the Criminal Code 1899 (QLD).

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