Melbourne, Australia: Eight people were arrested in Melbourne, Australia, accused in the trafficking of millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs into the country over a period of months, two of them airline cabin crew members accused of smuggling the drugs via “body packing,” officials announced Wednesday.
At a press conference, Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh said, the suspects were part of a “highly organized” Vietnamese syndicate moving drugs from Malaysia into Australia.
“I think there’s two of the current eight that have been charged that have been confirmed cabin crew,” Walsh said. She said only one airline, which she did not name, was involved.
Malindo Air, a Malaysian airline that’s a subsidiary of Lion Air, released a statement confirming only that one of its cabin crew members was arrested at Melbourne International Airport on Jan. 7.
The company said it only learned through media reports that the employee “was arrested for allegedly being part of an international drug syndicate which used various airlines’ cabin crews for smuggling drugs into Australia.” The company said it “stands ready to co-operate with all the relevant authorities” and has suspended the worker.
The eight arrests, mostly made last week, culminated a five-month long joint operation between federal, local and border police in Australia.
Of the suspects, Walsh said some were “key targets” who have been generating the “local activity of the syndicate,” while others were “lesser players.” They range in age from 26 to 47 and half are women.
Walsh said the syndicate had been operating in Australia “for quite some years.” But police said they continue to pursue leads abroad in an attempt to track down other members.
Police said they seized 13 pounds of heroin and more than 17 pounds of methamphetamine.
“This is a significant seizure,” Walsh said, “but I think reality would say that it’s not the total amount of drugs that this team have brought into this country.”
Regarding the airline workers’ method of transporting the drugs, Australian Federal Police Commander Amanda Kates said, “At this stage, we’ve got them as body packing.”
It is not the first time airline workers tasked with attending to the comfort and safety of passengers have been accused of doubling as contraband couriers.
“Last year, in Victoria alone, in excess of 2,000 airline crew were subject to intervention at the border by our officers,” Commander Craig Palmer with the Australian Border Force said at the press conference. He said the contraband included drugs and tobacco.
The suspects arrested in Melbourne are due to appear in court in May.
This is a joint media release between the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force , Victoria Police and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
Eight people were arrested in Melbourne over the past fortnight as part of a joint operation targeting an organised crime syndicate police will allege is responsible for the importation of over $20M worth of illicit drugs into Australia.
Operation Sunrise commenced in August 2018, focusing on the importation and subsequent trafficking of high grade heroin to Melbourne.
Investigators will allege the syndicate was bringing the drugs into the country from Malaysia by using an international airline cabin crew as a courier.
The alleged offenders are linked to the trafficking of at least 6kgs of high-grade heroin and 8kgs of methamphetamine during the five-month operation.
Since 8 January 2019, seven search warrants were executed by the Joint Organised Crime Taskforce (JOCTF), comprising members from the Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police, Australian Border Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, with assistance from the Victoria Police Drug Taskforce.
The properties targeted were located in the Melbourne suburbs of Richmond (two properties), Southbank, Abbotsford, Sunshine North (two properties) and Melbourne.
Eight people have been arrested as part of this operation and charged by police as follows:
- A 38-year-old woman was arrested in Tullamarine on 7 January and charged with one count of importing a marketable quantity of border controlled drugs;
- A 47-year-old woman was arrested in Abbotsford on 8 January and charged with traffic commercial quantity of controlled drugs and import commercial quantity of border controlled drug;
- A 55-year-old man was arrested in Southbank on 8 January and charged with traffic commercial quantity of controlled drugs and import commercial quantity of border controlled drug;
- A 42-year-old man was arrested in Melbourne on 8 January and charged with trafficking a marketable quantity of controlled drugs;
- A 26-year-old man was arrested in Sunshine North on 8 January and charged with traffic a marketable quantity of border controlled drugs;
- A 30-year-old man was arrested in Sunshine North on 8 January and charged with traffic of controlled drugs and dealing with proceeds of crime;
- A 46-year-old woman was arrested on 8 January in Abbotsford and charged with traffic a controlled drug; and
- A 47-year-old Richmond woman was arrested in Richmond on 14 January and charged with import commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, traffic marketable quantity of controlled drugs, and traffic controlled drugs.
All eight have appeared before Melbourne Magistrates Court with six remanded to appear again on 15 May.
The 30-year-old man and 46-year-old woman were bailed to appear again at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 15 May.
A number of items were also seized during the operation including the following:
- 6kg heroin or approx. 42,000 hits with a street value of $14.5M;
- 8kg methamphetamine with a street value of $6.4M;
- Approx 0.5kg cocaine;
- Drug paraphernalia;
- Vehicles including a Porsche Macan and Mini Cooper; and
- Significant quantity of cash.
Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh said the successful outcome of this operation sends a strong message that police and other law enforcement agencies remain strongly focused on disrupting those criminal groups bringing drugs into the Victorian community.
“This was a well organised syndicate we know had operated across Australia undetected for many years,” she said.
“To be in a position to make these arrests and dismantle this group is a significant win for both police and the Victorian community.
“The amount of heroin alone involved in this investigation amounts to almost fifty thousand thousand hits in real terms.
“We know the harm that drugs bring – not just the physical and health impacts on users, but the negative flow on effects to the broader community such as property crime, assaults and drug driving.
“This operation has been about ensuring that those within this group are held accountable for their criminal actions and show that police will actively work to disrupt the activities of those willing to bring drugs into Victoria.
“Our work certainly doesn’t finish with these arrests and the enforcement of drug offences remains a key priority for not only Victoria Police, but all law enforcement agencies across Australia.”
AFP Commander Amanda Kates said the operation was a great success and a strong example of the excellent cooperation between the State and Commonwealth law enforcement agencies. This investigation demonstrates the power of intelligence sharing between partner agencies.
“The arrest and dismantling of significant members of this criminal syndicate sends a strong message to international drug syndicates who choose to import and traffic such harmful drugs into Australia.”
“Law enforcement agencies in Australia will use all available resources and capability to identify, arrest and prosecute those responsible for spreading such destructive drugs into our community,” Commander Kates said.
Australian Border Force Regional Commander Victoria, Craig Palmer, said the arrests highlight the effectiveness of Australia’s multi-layered, multi-agency approach to targeting illicit drug imports.
“Would-be criminals should be aware that any attempts to bring these drugs into the country will be met with the full force of Australian border and law enforcement agencies, before, at and after the border,” Commander Palmer said.
“Airline staff are not above the law. They are subject to intervention at the border like everyone else and face significant penalties if they are found to be using their positions to attempt to circumvent our border controls.
Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Acting Executive Director Intelligence Operations Jason Halls said this outcome is a strong example of the value of intelligence sharing between the ACIC and partner agencies.
“By working together we are seeing significant results in preventing illicit drugs from reaching the community and we will continue to target the serious and organised crime groups who bring these drugs into the country, with no regard for the harm they cause,” he said.
Anyone with information about drug activity is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report to www.crimestoppersvic.com.au