A single phone call to police from an anonymous source sparked a year long investigation that netted Australia’s largest recorded ice seizure - 585 kilograms worth an estimated $438 million.
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told a press conference on Thursday the Joint Organised Crime Group, consisting of leading law enforcement agencies, would not have arrested the Asian drug syndicate’s three men without that simple tip off.
"That one phone call was the one thread that allowed us to pull and unravel a syndicate that will be stopped forever.
"A member of the public had seen that things weren’t right at a particular location at a commercial premises and contacted the police," he said.
The Asian Crime Squad began investigating the matter in September last year and provided the vital ground work for other agencies to work up to the record haul, he said.
"As the sheer scale and complexity of this operation became apparent, we quickly involved our partner agencies," he said.
Mr Scipione said police are talking to Chinese authorities and investigations are continuing overseas with more arrests likely.
Three men face Central Local Court on Thursday after their arrests on Wednesday night when police searched six properties in Regents Park, Bexley North, Wakeley, Canley Heights, Beverly Hills and Ryde.
A 21-year-old Australian national, born in New Zealand, a 32-year-old Singaporean national and a 51-year-old Hong Kong man were arrested when attempting to pick up the drugs at a storage facility in West Ryde.
Police will allege the two foreign men arrived in Australia this year and a clandestine methamphetamine lab was also discovered.
AFP Commissioner Tony Negus said it was unclear how long the syndicate had been operating in Australia.
"There was suspicious activity and then there was good work by the police to go and talk to this individual and then take it to the next level of identifying much more suspicious activity," he said.
Mr Negus said the Sydney-end of the syndicate received the drugs disguised as cleaning chemicals shipped in containers from south China.
"We will allege there were a number of dry runs, the syndicate was testing the procedures of Customs and police and again it all started back with that one phone call," he said.
Police intercepted the drugs, replaced them with a fake consignment and then monitored the men who collected the drugs from a Sydney wharf.
"These people were arrested when they left the warehouse with what they thought were the drugs and it was without incident," he said.
Customs and Border CEO Michael Pezzullo said 85 per cent of detections come from 'intelligence leads'.
"If you are really just screening materials you really are just looking for a needle not just in a hay stack but in millions of hay stacks, as there are millions of containers in Australia," he said.