Acting on a tip off from Cypriot authorities, Australian police have arrested two men for allegedly smuggling 645 kilograms of ecstasy hidden inside hundreds of aluminum barbecues, the culmination of a six-month investigation spanning three countries.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Australian Border Force (ABF) said it had charged a 30-year-old man from Queensland and a 33-year-old Canadian national over their involvement in the criminal enterprise. At well over half a tonne, the haul of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, is the biggest shipment by weight seized in Australia this year.
The investigation remains ongoing and is expected to lead to further arrests, the ABF said. Police didn’t disclose the names of the two men held, who each face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted.
The case began in July when police in the Cyprus Drug Law Enforcement Unit tipped off ABF counterparts about a potential large shipment of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, in a container shipping from Limassol and bound for Sydney. The investigation also involved the United Kingdom National Crime Agency, the ABF said.
On searching the container, the police found 200 aluminum barbecues, many with false base plates concealing multiple packages of the drug.
“The confiscation of the drugs and the arrests were the result of the flawless cooperation of the three countries and their concerted efforts coordinated by the Australian authorities over six months,” police of the Republic of Cyprus said in an announcement.
And Cyprus police added: “The Cypriot authorities, after receiving a relevant request carried out simultaneous searches at houses and other premises in Cyprus. The case is still at the investigation stage by the authorities of Australia, Cyprus and the UK.”
Reuters reports that officers in Australia had swapped the MDMA for an inert substance and delivered the barbecues to a warehouse in Sydney, where it sat for more than three months.
Starting in late October, the barbecues were gradually shipped to another warehouse, also in Sydney, where the Australian suspect began to prepare the drugs for distribution, the ABF said.
The Canadian suspect arrived in Sydney last week to visit the warehouse and was arrested in Brisbane on Monday.
“It will be alleged in court that he acted as a liaison for the criminal group responsible for importing the MDMA,” the ABF said.
The Australian suspect was also arrested on Monday, while about A$300,000 ($204,000) in cash and 3.5 kg of cocaine were also seized.
The arrests come as the ABF invests heavily in new technologies allowing officers to see further into shipping containers than ever before, ABF Regional Commander for New South Wales, Danielle Yannopoulos, said in the statement.
“Just this year we’ve found illicit substances in professionally manufactured car parts, fridges, furniture, and even an excavator,” she said.