Australia nets biggest cocaine bust on record

– A major cocaine ring has been dismantled in joint operations with Tahiti, Australian police said Thursday, December 29, with a record 1.1 tonnes of cocaine worth hundreds of millions of dollars seized, AFP reports.

Police listed 600 kilogrammes (1,320 pounds) of cocaine intercepted by the French navy off Tahiti, 500 kilogrammes seized on Christmas Day in Sydney and 32 kilogrammes of heroin in Fiji — all destined for the Australian market.

“The size of that seizure collectively — 1.1 tonnes — makes it the largest cocaine seizure in Australian law enforcement history,” said Australian Federal Police acting Assistant Commissioner Chris Sheehan.

The street value of the cocaine, shipped from South America to the South Pacific, was estimated at Aus$360 million (US$260 million).

“The criminal syndicate that we have dismantled over the past few days was a robust, resilient and determined syndicate,” he said.

“It’s a significant hit… the entire group has been taken out,” added NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Jenkins.

“It’s quite a chunk out of the cocaine economy… over one tonne of drugs has been prevented from reaching the streets … and harming the community.”

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The investigation began more than two years ago following a tip from a member of the public, AFP says.

“We have ongoing inquiries, particularly in South America and other parts of the world, to look at who they were dealing with to bring those drugs from those countries to Australia,” Jenkins said.

The arrested, 14 Australians and one New Zealander aged between 29 and 63 years, were charged with serious drug importation offences and all were refused bail.

Police released video footage showing several men being arrested aboard a fishing boat and led away in handcuffs.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph said several were fishermen, one a former rugby league star, another a Bondi businessman.

With high street prices attracting drug sellers to Australia, police said they made more than 18,000 imported drug seizures in the last year.