Last year, Australia declared a crystal methamphetamine epidemic, and on Monday, law enforcement officials announced that they have made their largest drug bust in two years, when they seized $1 billion Australian dollars’ worth of the drug in liquid form hidden in shipments of silicon bra inserts and children’s art supplies.
According to the Australian law enforcement agencies, this is the largest bust of the liquid form of methamphetamine, or “ice” as it is commonly referred to in Australia, and has a U.S. worth of approximately $700 million. According to Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan, over “3.6 million individual hits of ice” were taken off the streets as a result of the investigation that began last year December.
An inspection of an inbound shipping container from Hong Kong by Australian immigration officials last year is what paved the way for this billion dollar bust. The inspection led to the discovery that the cargo, which seemed like thousands of stick on gel bra inserts, was, in fact, shipments of “ice.” The police stated that over 190 liters of the drug were discovered. Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commander Chris Sheehan advised that had the haul made it to the street, the liquid would have been used to make about 1,100 pounds of high-grade crystal meth.
“This largest seizure of liquid methylamphetamine to date is the result of organized criminals targeting the lucrative Australian ice market from offshore.”
Officials had also seized approximately 4.4 pounds of the crystalized form of the methamphetamine drug during that discovery. The resulting investigation led to tracking the shipment’s delivery to a storage facility where a Hong Kong national was arrested. The New York Daily News states an additional 530 liters of the drug was found in various Sydney storage units, concealed as painting sets and bottles of craft glue.
In total, authorities have arrested four persons in relation to the manufacture and importation of the billion dollar drug haul they made, three of whom are from Hong Kong while the fourth person is a Chinese national. Minister Keenan advised that the persons arrested, including one woman, could potentially face life in prison if they are convicted. The four will appear in a Sydney court next month and are charged with importing and manufacturing commercial quantities of illegal drugs.
In November, Australian Federal Police and China’s National Narcotics Control Commission established an alliance and formed a joint task force dedicated to investigating criminal syndicates that were trafficking methamphetamine. The task force to combat the international ice smuggling market was also used to gather information for this billion dollar methamphetamine bust.
Commander Sheehan also stated that since the AFP is working with the Chinese authorities, they could begin looking outside of their borders to find the source of the smuggling networks.
“It’s well-known that China is a very significant source country for methamphetamine, not just here in Australia but around the world… Methamphetamine poses – by far – the greatest threat to the Australian public of all illicit drug types, and by a significant margin. [The task force] gives us the capability to not just target members of syndicates that come to Australia, but go to the point of origin.”
CNN reports that Australia’s problem with “ice” is continuing to grow, and experts caution that the drug can cause long-term psychological issues as well as psychosis. Australia reportedly has one of the highest methamphetamine-use rates in the world, and over 1.3 million Australians have stated they have tried the drug. Persons using the drug have committed robberies, violent assaults, and even road deaths.
The drug is becoming increasingly available throughout Australia, even in regions where it was not previously prevalent, such as regional and remote communities. However, Keenan calls this bust “a devastating blow for the organized criminal gangs that peddle in ice.” He went on to state that those who target the Australian market should be aware that officials “have the powers and the resources to prosecute you.”
[Photo by Rick Rycroft/AP]