Customs brokers charged over $1bn Australian drug seizure

By Will Waters Dec 5 2019 / Llyod’s Loading Lists

Two freight industry insiders allegedly used their ‘trusted’ position as import-export experts to import more than 1.6 tonnes of methamphetamine, hidden in an ocean freight shipment from Thailand to Melbourne, in country’s largest ever ‘ice’ seizure

Two customs brokers have been charged over Australia’s largest ever seizure of the drug methamphetamine – after A$1 billion (US$680 million) of the drug was found hidden inside speakers shipped as ocean freight from Thailand to Melbourne.

More than six months after the drugs were seized, federal police yesterday arrested two men and a woman, who appeared briefly in Melbourne Magistrates Court today, charged with allegedly importing 1.6 tonnes of methamphetamine and 35 kilogrammes of heroin.

Reports in the Australian media allege that the two customs brokers, Rachel Cachia and Donovan Rodrigues, along with IT worker Stephen Mizzi, used their “trusted” position as import-export experts to import more than 1.6 tonnes of illicit drugs bring into Melbourne. Cachia and Rodrigues also face multiple charges of dealing with proceeds of crime and moving goods subject to customs control without authorisation.

The three were remanded in custody to face court again on 7 May, The Age reported, noting that federal police had described two of the three people charged as “trusted insiders” in the customs industry, through their independent customs brokerage business. Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Neil Gaughan alleged the pair was “middle to high up” in the drug operation, noting: “We feel, to a certain extent, that they’ve been used.”  

Australian Border Force officers reportedly discovered the drugs in April after they asked for sea freight shipped from Bangkok, to be inspected at a container examination facility. After an X-ray, officers spotted anomalies inside the speakers and took them apart – where they found dozens of packages containing methamphetamine and heroin, which had been vacuum-packed and stuffed inside the stereo units.

The 1.596 tonnes of ‘crystal meth’ or ‘ice’ – the purest and most potent version of methamphetamine – had an estimated street value of $1.197 billion, equivalent to about 16 million drug deals, police said at the time, and 37 kilogrammes of heroin was also found, which had a street value of about $18.5 million. Video of the massive haul shows police officers standing in a room filled with evidence bags containing bricks of the drugs piled more than one metre high, The Age reported.

AFP’s Gaughan told reporters on Thursday that Cachia and Rodrigues knew how to exploit the system through their work as independent custom brokers, commenting: “They are trusted insiders in the industry. They (allegedly) used their position of trust to circumvent the border controls that exist within Australia,” Australia’s The Courier newspaper reported. “This vulnerability has been fully removed.”

Australian Border Force assistant commissioner Sharon Huey said the force was no longer surprised at the methods used by criminals to smuggle drugs, which has included highlighter pens, hot sauce bottles, and cow hides, The Courier reported, with Huey noting: “In this case, officers using X-ray technology detected anomalies inside the speakers, with the subsequent reconstruction of one allegedly revealing a number of vacuum sealed packages inside.”

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