Smugglers get saucy Down Under

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Four men have been charged over the importation of 400kg of methylamphetamine, which was detected by Australian Border Force (ABF) concealed in bottles of chilli sauce imported from the US.

On Tuesday, 15 October 2019, ABF officers targeted an air cargo consignment which had recently arrived at a Sydney freight depot from the United States.

The consignment, which was declared to contain hot chilli sauce, was examined by ABF officers who noted inconsistencies.

During a subsequent deconstruction, it was found to contain 768 bottles of chilli sauce, with presumptive testing returning a positive indicator for methylamphetamine aka ice.

A preliminary forensic analysis determined the bottles contained about 400kg of methylamphetamine, which has an estimated potential street value of more than A$300 million (USD200 million).

Strike Force Diffey investigators, with assistance from Australian Federal Police and ABF, seized the consignment and conducted a controlled delivery. In September 2018, the State Crime Command’s Organised Crime Squad and the NSW Crime Commission established Strike Force Diffey to investigate coordinated money laundering across Sydney and the importation and supply of illicit drugs into NSW.

As a result of inquiries, a 36-year-old man was arrested by strike force detectives outside a home at Plumpton just before 14:00 on Sunday 20 October 2019.

About 19:00 the next day (Monday 21 October 2019), detectives arrested two Victorian men – aged 30 and 34 – in the carpark of a hotel in Sydney’s CBD.

Shortly after, police searched a vehicle in the carpark and seized eight boxes containing bottles of chilli sauce, box cutters, moving bags and gardening gloves.

A search warrant was also executed at a hotel suite, where police seized 26 boxes of chilli sauce and four mobile phones.

The men were all charged with attempt to possess a commercial quantity unlawful import: border-controlled drug and large commercial drug supply. A fourth man, aged 45, was later arrested.

State Crime Commander, acting assistant commissioner Stuart Smith, said the results of joint investigations have disrupted the activities of this criminal syndicate.

“This has been a complex investigation and we know the methylamphetamine in this import was headed for a clandestine lab in the Sydney Metropolitan area for the extraction process to occur,” Smith said.

“We will not stop with the arrests of these four men who are key members of the network. We will conduct further investigations with our law enforcement partners to identify other people linked to the group.”

Acting ABF regional commander for NSW, Matt O’Connor, said the seizure had prevented approximately four million hits of ice hitting the streets.