Law enforcement agencies have seized $1 billion of ice in the largest drug bust of liquid methamphetamine in Australia's history, federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan announced on Monday.
Three Hong Kong nationals and one Chinese national have been charged over their involvement in the drug syndicate, which is alleged to have imported 720 litres of methylamphetamine into NSW.
Ice worth $1b seized by AFP
RAW VISON: More than $1 billion of ice has been seized after law enforcement agencies broke up a major drug syndicate.
The syndicate was uncovered after border force officials at Sydney Airport notified the Australian Federal Police of a 33-year-old Hong Kong man, whom they identified as "high risk", as he entered Australia on November 9, 2015.
On December 26, Australian Border Force officials raided a shipping container from Hong Kong, which they believed was connected with the 33-year-old, and found a consignment of gel push-up bra inserts inside 86 boxes.
"Hidden inside those gel bra inserts was 190 litres of liquid methamphetamine," Commander Chris Sheehan, the federal police's State Manager NSW, told a press conference on Monday.
A subsequent investigation led by the Joint Organised Crime Group - comprising the Australian Federal Police, NSW Police, Australian Border Force, Australian Crime Commission and the NSW Crime Commission - allegedly uncovered a further 530 litres of liquid methamphetamine in storage facilities in Hurstville, Rockdale, Miranda and Padstow.
The drugs were allegedly concealed inside art supplies, including children's paint-by-numbers kits.
Two kilograms of crystal methamphetamine were also seized.
Commander Sheehan said officers arrested the 33-year-old man on January 14, after tracking a controlled delivery of the push-up bras to a storage facility in Burwood. He was charged with importing a controlled border drug under the Commonwealth Criminal Code.
On January 25, the taskforce arrested three more people - a 59-year-old male Chinese national, a 37-year-old male Hong Kong national and a 52-year-old female Hong Kong national - after they allegedly discovered evidence of drug manufacturing at two Sydney residences, in Hurstville and Campsie.
Police alleged the trio were linked to the art supply haul and have charged them with manufacturing a commercial quantity of a prohibited drug under the NSW Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act.
Commander Sheehan said the four individuals were not "mere bit players" but were "significant players within this criminal network".
Mr Keenan said the seizure meant 3.6 million individual hits of ice - with a street value of $1.26 billion - had been taken off the streets.
"This joint operation shows how successful our law enforcement agencies are in tackling the organised criminal gangs that peddle in the misery of ice," he said.
About 7.2 tonnes of illicit drugs were intercepted by border force officers in 2015. It follows the discovery of 2.8 tonnes of drugs - 1917 kilograms of MDMA (ecstasy) and 849 kilograms of methamphetamine - hidden inside furniture in November 2014, which was the second-biggest bust in the country's history.Despite the efforts of law enforcement, the seizures are estimated to be only a small fraction of the supply flooding the Australian market, as the wholesale price of illicit drugs has continued to drop.
Australian criminal groups were paying as little as $95,000 for a kilogram of ice, down from $220,000 18 months ago, Fairfax media revealed on Sunday.
Over the same period, the price of ecstasy has dropped $65,000 to $37,000, while cocaine has been steadily dropping from $280,000 a kilogram three years ago. It now sells for as low as $180,000 a kilogram.
Both Mr Keenan and Commander Sheehan rejected suggestions that efforts of law enforcement were proving futile, with Commander Sheehan adding that "the slogan of the war on drugs is quite unhelpful".
"This isn't about a war on any particular commodity. It's not about a war at all. This is about dealing with transnational organised crime and the threat they pose to our community," Commander Sheehan said.
Mr Keenan said the federal government had increased its effort to tackle demand by investing $300 million into drug rehabilitation, but said the government's primary approach was: "If you don't want to come to harm using drugs, don't use drugs in the first place.
"The way to deal with drugs is not to wave the white flag of surrender."