SYDNEY, NSW, Australia - A 45-year-old Sydney man has been charged for allegedly importing approximately 144 kilograms of cocaine hidden in hydraulic cylinders.
Operation Tethys began earlier this month following an Australian Border Force (ABF) detection of drugs hidden in a consignment of hydraulic cylinders, arriving from South Africa into Brisbane, in the northern Australian state of Queensland, on 1 October 2020.
ABF officers say they identified anomalies within the pistons of the two hydraulic cylinders. Inside the large pistons was a total of six metal drums, each concealing 24 blocks of white powder. A presumptive test of the powder returned a positive result for cocaine.
The detection was reported to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for investigation.
AFP Crime Scene Investigators removed the cocaine blocks from the hydraulic cylinders and substituted them with an inert substance for a controlled delivery of the consignment to a warehouse in the Sydney suburb of Botany, in the Australian state of New South Wales.
The total approximate weight of the cocaine was determined to be 144 kilograms, which has an estimated street value of $64.8 million.
AFP officers executed search warrants at two warehouses on Friday in Botany.
Police allege the 45-year-old Sydney man took delivery of the consignment at a Botany warehouse and spent a significant amount of time on Wednesday and Thursday pulling apart the cylinders and accessing the hidden consignment.
The man was arrested at a Botany warehouse and charged with offences that carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
It will be alleged the man facilitated the importation and was to play a significant role in onward distribution of it. Further enquiries, the AFP says, are ongoing into the source of the cocaine, and into other intended recipients in Australia.
During the search warrants, AFP officers seized a number of items, including sums of U.S. currency, gold bullions and silver ingots.
AFP Detective Superintendent Ben McQuillan said the AFP is continuing its enquiries domestically and with its international law enforcement partners to identify this organised crime group looking to profit from the high demand for illicit drugs in Australia.
"We believe further investigation of this matter will reveal significant links to organised criminal elements. We suspect this because of the money involved in purchasing 144kg of cocaine in source countries, and the cost of obtaining the industrial machinery to conceal it and then ship it more than halfway around the world," he said Sunday.
"It is unfortunate that organised crime groups and cocaine users ignore the misery caused by this drug. The production of cocaine causes deforestation in source countries, toxic chemicals used to extract and processes cocaine from coca leaf are often dumped into vital waterways, and the organisations who oversee this basically enslave entire generations of families who live in farming and production areas."
Australian Border Force (ABF) Regional Commander for Queensland, Chris Waters, said the initial detection highlighted the tireless work of ABF officers at the border.
"Our officers are highly trained to detect even the most sophisticated attempts to conceal the attempted illegal import of prohibited substances. Drugs such as these exact a terrible toll on the Australian community and we will continue to work closely with law enforcement partners like the AFP to combat this abhorrent crime," Commander Waters said Sunday.
The man appeared in a Western Suburbs court, the Parramatta Local Court, on Saturday and was refused bail. He is next due in Sydney Central Local Court on 17 December 2020.