Queensland men arrested over 560kg WA cocaine bust

The AFP has charged two men for their alleged involvement in the importation of about 560kg of cocaine seized by authorities in Western Australia’s Mid-West region in August, 2023.

The Queensland men faced court in Mackay last week (30 November, 2023) and were both extradited to WA on charges of attempting to import a commercial quantity of cocaine.

The two men, 45 and 53, were arrested in Mackay by officers from the AFP and Queensland Police Service on 29 and 30 November, respectively.

The 45-year-old man is accused of travelling to WA on 31 July, 2023 to collect the cocaine from the ocean off Denham, after the drugs were allegedly dropped overboard from a bulk cargo carrier.

Police will allege the man purchased a 7m recreation fishing vessel with cash and took the boat out to sea on 7 August, but the planned drug collection failed when he struck trouble and needed to be rescued.

The second man, 53, also allegedly travelled to WA for the attempted drug collection and was waiting at a boat ramp for the drugs to be brought back to shore on the 7m boat. Police will allege he would have been responsible for driving the drugs from WA to Queensland.

Four days later, AFP and WAPF officers executed a search warrant at a Kalbarri property, about 570km north-west of Perth, and found about 560kg of cocaine wrapped in plastic.

Three other men from Queensland were arrested at that property and police will allege they had also purchased a boat and used it to collect the cocaine from the ocean.

Those men – aged 29, 32 and 49 – remain before the courts.

Further inquiries into the transnational criminal syndicate responsible for the drug trafficking venture and a review of evidence collected during the investigation resulted in the AFP last week arresting the two men in Mackay, who it will be alleged were originally supposed to retrieve the drugs from the sea.

The two men have been charged with attempting to import a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, contrary to section 307.1(1) by virtue of section 11.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). They face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted.

The two men are expected to appear before court again on 12 January, 2024.

AFP Inspector Chris Colley said the AFP and partners were committed to identifying anyone involved in the operations and supply chains of transnational crime syndicates.

“Every person involved plays a vital role in helping these syndicates to profit from exploiting the Australian community,” Inspector Colley said.

“Had 560kg of cocaine made it to the streets, it could have been sold as about 560,000 individual street deals. That would have resulted in an estimated $224 million spent on purchasing cocaine rather than at legitimate local businesses.

“Across Australia there were 1300 cocaine-related hospitalisations in 2021-2022* – more than three every day on average. That has an impact on the health system that can negatively affect the entire community.

“In 2023, the AFP in WA, along with partners Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Department of Home Affairs and Western Australian Police Force, have stopped transnational serious and organised crime groups from importing more than 2.3 tonnes of drugs in Australia.

“Drug syndicates continue to target Australia due to its high demand creating a profitable market.

“The extensive coastline in WA presents challenges for Police. However, working with our law enforcement partners and everyone in our community, we will continue make WA a difficult place for criminals to operate.”

Australian Border Force Commander Ranjeev Maharaj said the ABF had made 4296 detections of cocaine, with an estimated total weight of 4769kg, from 1 July, 2022 to 30 June, 2023, representing a 166 per cent increase from the previous financial year of 2308 detections (2021-2022).

“Organised crime syndicates are relentless in their efforts to flood our shores with cocaine, with the motivation being greed and profit,” Commander Maharaj said.

“While these crime syndicates are relentless, so are we.

“The ABF continues to work side-by-side with the AFP, Home Affairs Intelligence and the WA Police to disrupt these criminal networks and stop these enterprises in their tracks.”

*Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare analysis of the National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD).

/Public Release. View in full here.