SYDNEY, March 4 (Reuters) – A joint US and Australian law enforcement operation busted an international drug ring after intercepting 2.4 tonnes of cocaine on board a ship off the coast of South America bound for Australia.
The cocaine, which is linked to a Mexican drug cartel, had a street value of around A$1 billion ($677 million) and was equivalent to half of Australia’s estimated annual consumption, making the seizure one of the largest involving Australian police .
Twelve suspects have been arrested and charged in the case, Western Australia State Police said in a statement on Saturday, first releasing details of an operation that began last November when the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intercepted the ship.
Western Australian police replaced the cargo with identically packaged counterfeit cocaine and dropped it about 40 nautical miles west of the national capital, Perth, on December 28.
Three suspected members of the “Australian arm of a drug syndicate” with 1.2 tonnes of counterfeit cocaine were arrested on December 30 after allegedly making three trips through rough seas to pick up the packages.
A further nine arrests were made as of January 13, including a traffic stop on the Great Eastern Highway, some 600 kilometers (373 miles) east of the state capital Perth, where officers found more than A$2 million in cash.
Western Australia Police Commissioner Col Blanch hailed the success of “Operation Beech” in a statement: “The operation sends a message to the international drug traffickers – your deadly drugs are not welcome here.”
Also Read: Bulk Carrier Crew Members Accused of Offloading Cocaine at Sea in Australia
A 39-year-old male US citizen was among the 12 accused, police said.
($1 = 1.4775 Australian Dollars)
(Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.