joint media release
Four Spanish nationals arrested for record 300kg cocaine bust - 14 November 2011
Joint media release with the Australian Federal Police and Queensland Police Service
Australian law enforcement agencies have dealt a significant blow to an international organised crime syndicate, arresting four Spanish nationals and seizing 300 kilograms of cocaine from a yacht in Bundaberg, Queensland over the weekend.
Authorities also seized more than $3 million in cash during related search warrants carried out in Bundaberg, Sydney and the Gold Coast.
The investigation involved collaboration between the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Queensland Police Service and assistance from authorities in Vanuatu.
It is believed to be the fifth largest cocaine seizure in Australian history, with the confiscated drugs carrying an estimated value of up to $78 million. It is also the second significant cocaine seizure on a yacht in just over 12 months.
The AFP commenced an investigation, code-named Operation Avalon, early this year based on intelligence regarding an international organised crime syndicate suspected to be involved in money laundering and planning a substantial importation of cocaine into Australia.
In September, Customs and Border Protection through their risk identification assessment processes identified a yacht in September at Port Vila, Vanuatu, with suspected links to the organised crime syndicate and scheduled to travel to Australia.
The yacht, named Friday Freedom, left Vanuatu on 14 October, 2011.
Customs and Border Protection coordinated offshore surveillance of the vessel through the deployment of significant marine and aviation assets. The operation also involved significant assistance from authorities in Vanuatu.
The yacht was crewed by two Spanish nationals, a 35-year-old man and 37-year-old woman. It arrived off the coast of Bundaberg on the evening of Thursday, October 20, 2011.
Police will allege that two other Spanish nationals - a 38-year-old man who resides in Sydney and 39-year-old man who resides on the Gold Coast - travelled from the Gold Coast to Bundaberg on Friday 11 November to meet the boat.
Police arrested the alleged offenders on 11 November when an exchange of approximately 100 kilograms of cocaine took place at the Bundaberg Port.
The four Spanish nationals are scheduled to appear in Bundaberg Magistrates Court today, to face charges relating to the import of a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug. The maximum penalty for this offence is life imprisonment.
Investigations are ongoing and police have not ruled out further arrests.
The drugs were secreted within the hull of the yacht. AFP National Manager for Serious and Organised Crime Kevin Zuccato said it was a highly sophisticated concealment. It was clear the syndicate had demonstrated an understanding of law enforcement methodology and had gone to considerable effort to escape detection.
“This operation demonstrates that the AFP, with our international and domestic partners, has the capability, resources and commitment to successfully detect and dismantle the most sophisticated organised crime groups,” Assistant Commissioner Zuccato said.
“The AFP seized 796 kilograms of cocaine last financial year, an increase of 103 per cent on the previous year.
“As long as organised crime groups target Australia we will continue our efforts to disrupt their activities and arrest those who seek to bring harm to the Australian community.”
Customs and Border Protection National Manager Enforcement Operations, Kaylene Zakharoff, congratulated the officers on the success of such an extensive joint response.
“This Operation highlights the importance of working collaboratively with other agencies at the border to dismantle organised crime syndicates,” Ms Zakharoff said.
“Customs and Border Protection is determined to combat the threat that serious and organised crime poses to the Australian community.”
Customs and Border Protection Media (02) 6275 6793
AFP National Media (02) 6131 6333
Queensland Police Media (07) 3015 2444