An international covert operation has prevented a record 2.4 tonne of cocaine worth $1 billion from entering Western Australia. The operation resulted in the arrest of 12 people, with the cocaine linked to a Mexican drug cartel.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Beech, was a joint effort between WA Police Force Transnational Serious and Organised Crime Squad (TSOC), the Sydney Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and with assistance from other state policing jurisdictions.
Operation Beech commenced in November after 2.4 tonnes of cocaine that was destined for Australia was intercepted by the DEA off the South American coastline.
Intelligence suggested the drug traffickers were unaware of the seizure and held the belief the cocaine remained in transit to Australia. This meant the Australian arm of the syndicate continued to prepare to receive their shipment on about 28 December.
This provided an opportunity for Western Australian Police to substitute the cargo using an inert substance and packaging identical to that used by the cartel.
Police dropped the inert substance about 40 nautical miles west of the Perth coastline on 28 December 2022. It will be alleged that the shore party, utilising two vessels, (Catalina and Cool Runnings) made multiple efforts to locate and retrieve the cargo.
It will be alleged, that between the 28 and 30 of December 2022, the syndicate’s shore party made three trips out to sea in uncomfortable conditions because they couldn’t find the cargo.
On Friday 30 December, Tactical Response Group officers arrested three members of the shore party onboard Cool Runnings with approximately 1.2 tonnes of the inert substance. Cool Runnings had steering issues and washed up on the beach south of Moore River, 70km north of Perth.
It will be alleged that the other members of the shore party onboard the Catalina, then retrieved Cool Runnings from its beech location, towing it out to sea, where they transferred the inert substance onto the Catalina before it sank.
On New Year’s Eve (Saturday 31 December), search warrants were executed across the metropolitan area. In total, 9 men were charged with attempting to possess 1.2 tonne of cocaine.
The operation continued after the New Year’s Eve arrests with the syndicate still of the belief 1.2 tonnes of cocaine was available for purchase. On Monday 9 January, Tactical Response Group officers raided a Carlisle property and arrested a 28-year-old New South Wales man who has been charged with attempting to possess 200kg of cocaine.
Intelligence received from the ACIC led police to stop a vehicle on the Great Eastern Highway, near Coolgardie, on Friday 13 January. Officers located more than $2 million cash and charged a 39-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman allegedly connected to the syndicate.
“This was a complex operation involving dozens of specialist officers and detectives resulting in the seizure of an estimate $1 billion worth of cocaine, and disrupting criminal networks,” Mr Blanch said.
“This operation has enabled us to draw out those members of the syndicate who were equipped and prepared to receive and distribute a significant amount of illicit drugs within the community, who may have otherwise gone undetected and waited for the next consignment.
“Our objective is to identify and apprehend those responsible for sending the drugs, but also those onshore criminal syndicates set to receive and profit through distribution in our community.
“The operation sends a message to international drug traffickers – your deadly drugs are not welcome here, and we will work closely and innovatively with our on shore and off shore law enforcement partners to dismantle your operations.
“The WA Police Force TSOC squad are continuing this investigation with offshore partners to identify and prosecute those responsible for organising this shipment.
“We want drug traffickers to actively avoid trying to use our coastline as an entry point.”
WA Police acknowledge the assistance provided by other state jurisdictions during this operation.
The 12 accused, some of whom are from America, New South Wales and the Northern Territory, are progressing through WA’s courts.