Canola oil helps hide $1.7 billion methamphetamine seizure

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Authorities have stopped $1.7 billion worth of methamphetamine, one of the largest imports in the country’s history, from hitting Australian shores.

Australian law enforcement agencies, in partnership with officials from New Zealand and Canada, intercepted four shipments – the equivalent of about 19 million individual deals – bound for the streets of Sydney and Melbourne.

Six men have been charged in relation to a global crime syndicate’s attempt to traffic $1.7 billion worth of methamphetamine to Australia.

The shipments were arranged by an international criminal syndicate based in Canada and allegedly coordinated by a network of local Melbourne players, who police say planned to use their position within the logistics industry to move the drugs.

Three of the shipments contained liquid methamphetamine concealed inside bottles of canola oil that were intercepted by Canadian authorities before the shipment made its way to Australia. The fourth shipment, which was also seized by Canada’s law enforcement agencies last December, included 200kg of crystal meth.

Police executed seven search warrants in Melbourne’s CBD and western suburbs on Wednesday and arrested six people alleged to be connected to the syndicate, including two of the alleged key players facilitating the imports into Australia.

A search of a property in Sunshine North also uncovered a clandestine drug lab.

Officers allege a 38-year-old man from Melbourne knows the conduit for the Canadian-based criminal network and was the primary onshore facilitator for an attempted methamphetamine import.

They believe he was aided by a 32-year-old from Melbourne, who used his position in a logistics business to transport the methamphetamine to storage facilities across the city.

Three other men – Channara Ly Thong, Hien Pham, and Hung Richard Nguyen – are accused of using their homes and a storage facility in Melbourne’s western suburbs to keep illicit drugs, while a 51-year-old Melbourne man is believed to have also been involved in the syndicate.

All six men have been charged with attempting to possess a commercial quantity of an unlawfully imported border-controlled drug. The 32-year-old is also charged with attempting to import the narcotics.

Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Hilda Sirec said authorities were expecting to arrest more people as part of the five-month operation, which also intercepted a drug consignment bound for New Zealand.

“Transnational serious organised crime groups are a national security threat. They undermine the Australian economy, social security system and financial system,” Sirec said.

“Helping to prevent illicit drugs from coming into Australia is critical because it deprives organised crime from profiting and bankrolling other serious offences including child exploitation, sexual servitude and human trafficking.”

The scale of the attempted imports has raised concerns within the ranks of the AFP that efforts to combat drug trafficking are becoming “white noise” for a community officers perceive to be increasingly apathetic toward the dangers of drug use.

Bags of crystal meth intercepted by Canadian law enforcement.

Australia is seen as a lucrative market for crime syndicates looking to expand their drug trade due to its insatiable appetite for narcotics and exorbitant prices.

Data collected by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission shows that even as discretionary spending slumped over the past financial year, Australians spent an estimated $10 billion on drugs between August 2021 and 2022.

Methamphetamine accounted for more than 80 per cent of that expenditure, after police operations in early 2022 disrupted the flow of cocaine into Australia and overseas syndicates began flooding the market with the highly addictive synthetic drug.

The commission estimates users in NSW consumed almost 3 tonnes of meth between August 2021 and 2022, compared to 2.5 tonnes in Victoria and 1.6 tonnes in Queensland. Recent seizures as part of Operation Parkes account for almost the entire consumption of meth in all three states last year.

In a first for the Australian Federal Police, chief medical officer Dr Alison Money will appear publicly alongside representatives from Victoria Police and counterparts in New Zealand and Canada on Thursday to talk about the dangers of methamphetamine use.

Money said an average of 40 people were admitted to Australian hospitals every day for methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine use, while approximately 16 Australians overdosed on these drugs every week.

“Methamphetamine profoundly impacts every major organic system we have. A single episode of use can be sufficient to result in addiction and the chronic usage has catastrophic consequences for physical and mental health,” Money said.

Nina Patel, the regional director-general for Canada’s Border Services Agency in the Pacific region, said officers in the Canadian province of British Columbia had intercepted more than 6330 kg of meth bound for Australia in the past six months. This included the largest seizure in the agency’s history – a haul of almost 3000 kg of the drug.

Unlike other nations, Australia is broadly considered to be an endpoint destination for drugs rather than a transit country. Drug shipments are detected at the border weekly.

Narcotics regularly come into the country through Pacific nations such as Papua New Guinea, where criminals have been known to stockpile drugs for delivery to Australia in “black flights” – light planes loaded with drugs that log false flight plans and fly at very low altitudes to avoid detection by authorities.

Meth has been a feature of several high-profile cases in recent years, including the kidnapping of four-year-old Cleo Smith in regional Western Australia and the Eastern Freeway crash that killed four police officers in Melbourne in 2020.

In Queensland, mother Kerri-Ann Conley was jailed for nine years in February for leaving her two young daughters to die inside a hot car in Brisbane in 2019. Conely had used meth the day before and passed out when she got home.

Victoria Police assistant commissioner Bob Hill said the recent seizures are an “extraordinary blow” to organised crime.

“Importing these types of insidious drugs on an industrial scale ruins lives while destroying communities and families,” he said.

“The prevalence of these illicit substances within our society and the impact they have on human behaviour translates to road trauma, family violence, homicides, fatal shootings and other violent offending intrinsically linked to illicit drug trafficking.”

For free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drug treatment services call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015. Access free 24/7 drug and alcohol counselling online at

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