Police have found approximately 384 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside a second-hand excavator, en route to a small business in southern New South Wales. Australian Border Force officers intercepted the 20-tonne Caterpillar excavator from South Africa upon its arrival into Australia, transferring it to Port Botany for x-ray examination before discovering the drugs hidden inside the hydraulic lifting arm of the machinery, the ABC reports. The estimated street value of the drugs is over $140 million.
In a joint operation between the Australian Border Force, ACT police, and NSW police, authorities reportedly exchanged the cocaine for an inert substance and delivered it to the intended address in Bungendore, just outside of Canberra. Heavily armed tactical police subsequently raided a landscaping business in Bungendore yesterday and arrested two men aged 33 and 34. It is the largest ever drug interception operation coordinated by ACT police.
"It's clear to us that this group thought bringing drugs into our district in this type of machinery would avoid police interest," said Ray Johnson, ACT Policing’s Chief Police Officer. "How wrong they were."
It’s thought that some of the drugs may have been destined for the Australian ski fields just north of the ACT border. "Inevitably some of it was destined for the streets of the ACT," Officer Johnson said. "With such a large seizure some of it was clearly destined for other parts of the NSW district, perhaps the snow given it's ski season."
Sharon Huey, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Operations at the ABF, said the way in which the drugs had been stashed inside the excavator was "very professional".
"This is an incredibly sophisticated concealment, from the outside the excavator looked very normal in appearance,” she said. “However a very specialised and highly sophisticated method of concealment had been made on a large piece of machinery."
"To put this in perspective, in the 2017-18 financial year approximately 795 kilograms of cocaine were detected at the border; this 384 kilograms represents almost half that," acting deputy Commissioner Huey noted, according to The Canberra Times.
Timothy Engstrom and Adam Hunter both appeared in Queanbeyan Local Court this morning as a result of the raid, and were charged with importing a commercial quantity of a controlled drug. It’s thought that the massive seizure of cocaine is related to a possible drug importation syndicate operating in southern NSW and the ACT.
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