Australian police have seized more than $900M in methamphetamine, a narcotic known as ice, which had been hidden in gel bra inserts and art supplies, in one of the country’s biggest drug busts ever, authorities said.
Three people from Hong Kong and a Chinese national were arrested during the joint operation with China, which Justice Minister Michael Keenan described on Monday as the largest seizure of liquid methamphetamine in Australian history.
“This has resulted in 3.6 million individual hits of ice being taken off our streets with a street value of 1.26B Australian dollars,” he said.
“This largest seizure of liquid methamphetamine to date is the result of organised criminals, targeting the lucrative Australian ice market from offshore,” he added.
Chris Sheehan, the Australian Federal Police commander, said that the operation began in December 2015 when the Australian Border Force examined a shipping container out of Hong Kong in Sydney. It originated in mainland China.
“That shipping container was found to contain gel bra inserts and hidden inside those gel bra inserts was 190 litres of liquid methamphetamine,” he said.
The seizure was referred to the Australian Federal Police who began an investigation which traced an additional 530 litres of liquid methamphetamine to five storage units in Sydney, where they were found inside art supplies.
In January, a 33-year-old Hong Kong man was arrested and charged in connection with the original seizure.
A further two people from Hong Kong, a man, 37, and a 52-year-old woman, along with a Chinese man, 59, were arrested and charged with knowingly taking part in the manufacture of a commercial quantity of a prohibited drug over the stash in the storage units.
“We are alleging that the people we have arrested weren’t just mere bit-players, they were significant players within this criminal network,” said Sheehan, adding that they all face life in prison if convicted.
The sting was part of Taskforce Blaze, a rare operation established in November between the Australian Federal Police and the Chinese National Narcotics Control Commission – the first joint effort between the two against the booming “ice” market.
The two sides are working together to gather intelligence relating to concealment methods, trafficking routes and syndicates facilitating methamphetamine imports from Southeast China into Australia.
“This critical international co-operation is already paying significant intelligence dividends,” said Keenan.
The bust comes two months after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled a 300M Australian dollar strategy to combat the growing use of “ice” following a government report that Australia had proportionally more users than most countries.
The report showed that the use of the highly addictive drug had doubled since 2007 to more than 200,000 users in 2013, with anecdotal evidence of higher current numbers.
An Australian Crime Commission report published last year found that while $80 bought one gramme of ice in China, users in Australia had to pay $500 for the same amount.