On Christmas day, Australian officials seized 1102 pounds of cocaine in the nation’s largest drug bust in its history. The event was the culmination of a two-and-a-half year investigation. Police had seized 1336 pounds of the illegal drug from the same cartel earlier this year. The combined seized amounts of drugs were worth about $260 million, making it Australia’s greatest haul from one drug cartel.
According to CNN, the investigation, codenamed Operation Okesi, and was a joint effort between New South Wales Police, Australia‘s Border Force, and Australian Federal Police. Mark Jenkins, Crime Commander for NSW Police Force State commended law enforcement officials for working together on the large drug bust, even at the expense of missing holiday celebrations and time with family. He further acknowledged the hard work and diligence in cooperating over a long period of time. Jenkins thanked the community for the tip that sparked this investigation over two years ago. He said, “That small kernel of information has resulted in a large number of arrests and a seizure of drugs, it’s been a fantastic result,” according to The Guardian.
Chris Sheehan, acting assistant commissioner for the Australian Federal Police, described the cartel as “robust” and “sophisticated. Police believe that this is a local cartel, but had international connections. They may have been smuggling illegal drugs into the country through Sydney using commercial fishing boats. In a related event in March of 2016, police seized 1336 pounds of cocaine in the island nation of Tahiti, which was headed to Australia. The drugs are believed to have originated in South America, BBC reports.
From Sydney Fish Markets, police had been tracking a large commercial grade fishing vessels earlier this month. Officials followed the boat to the New South Wales south coast. In the evening hours of Christmas, a smaller single person boat was launched from the vessel and landed in Brooklyn, NSW, at Parsley Bay.
Investigators moved, seizing 1102 pounds of cocaine and took seven men into custody. Eight more men were arrested over the next four days by police across southeastern Australia. The fifteen men, all locals aged between 29 and 63, have been charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs. They each could face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
By percentage of population, cocaine use in Australia is one of the highest of any nation in the world, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It is estimated that 460,000 Australians or 2.1 percent of the population of the nation have used cocaine over the last 12 months. More than 1.5 million Australians are reported to have tried cocaine in their lifetime.
Simultaneously, seizures of the drug by police in recent years has grown dramatically. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission reports that between July 2014 and June 2015 there was 3,236 cocaine seizures in the country, the most since at least 2005. However, in a 2014 study of regular injecting drug users, 72 percent said cocaine was easy to obtain, an increase from the previous year, CNN reports.
Do you think an increase in drug busts is a good or bad sign for Australia? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
By Tory Crowley
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