Last year the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) made an average of nearly 600 illicit drug seizures a week. The Australian Crime Commission hasn't yet released the final tally but numbers have been rising since 2009, with the 2012-2013 period setting an all-time record of 86,918 seizures nationwide. This could either mean improved techniques by border security or more likely, a growing local market. And with demand comes suppliers, any way they can.
Drugs come into Australia in all sorts of ingenious ways. And although the ACBPS is an utterly dry government bureaucracy, they're not above occasionally hat-tipping a good attempt with a pun-laden media release. In fact there seems to be a direct correlation between the ingenuity of the smuggler and the cringe-worthiness of the subsequent media release. So with 2014 showing creativity on both sides of the law, we tallied some favourite examples.
Kicking off last year was a January 1 case the ACBPS dubbed a Not-So-Happy New-Year. A 25-year-old man was caught with 29 kilograms of methamphetamine hidden inside gelatin vitamin capsules. And if you're wondering what it takes to hide 27 kilos, that's 48,500 capsules inside 735 bottles. Unfortunately border guards at New South Wales' Air Cargo facility pulled apart this two-box consignment and after conducting tests, confirmed the white powdery substance had negligible nutritional benefit.
A few months later a 33-year-old man from Quakers Hill, New South Wales, was arrested for importing liquid cocaine inside a 2.6 litre box of wine. Considering Australia was the destination, the man presumably thought a goon sack would blend right in. But when the package arrived from Brazil it was intercepted at Sydney's International Mail Facility where customs officials noticed it had been tampered with. And the title on their media release? Coke and Wine Mix Proves a Headache for Drug Smuggler.
In another liquid cocaine story, a 22-year-old woman from the UK attempted to bring in 1.5 litres inside a lava lamp. She arrived in Sydney on a cruise ship from New Caledonia, where at White Bay Cruise Terminal sniffer dogs signaled something was up. Border guards found the lamp, which was filled with bright yellow liquid and featured a painting of a Hawaiian girl sitting beside the sea. In court the woman faced up to 25 years imprisonment or a fine of up to $850,000. She is still yet to be sentenced.
Later in July a 41-year-old man was busted with 5 kilograms of heroin concealed inside individually wrapped chocolates. Even the ACBPS's New South Wales Regional Commander, Tim Fitzgerald, acknowledged the attempt had been "carefully thought out and planned". However when he arrived at Sydney airport from Singapore, he was pulled aside by customs officials and searched. The multiple bags of chocolates raised their suspicions and when x-rayed the chocolates were found to be irregularly hollow. The ACBPS didn't miss a beat, putting out a press release dubbed Sweet Detection – Heroin Found Inside Chocolates. The man now faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
In September the ACBPS penned a media release titled Fishy Import Hooks Two Men which detailed - you guessed it – a case of two men importing narcotics inside boxes of fish. The sizeable bust of 88 kilograms of heroin and 21 kilograms of meth, concealed amongst frozen fish fillets as brown and white ice-packs, was estimated to have a street value at around $75 million. The ploy came apart when the ACBPS observed the shipment stopped in Kuala Lumpur, and the contents switched before being sent on. Two men, both Vietnamese-Canadian dual-nationals, attempted to collect the consignment and were arrested on the spot. The investigation also uncovered a makeshift heavy-duty press, which police believe was used to compress the bricks of heroin. The whole operation was hailed a triumph in multi-agency cooperation and a failure in criminals knowing what colour ice is.
While there were drug battles won in 2014 the overriding lesson seemed to be that narcotics aren't going away. As Australia's newly-minted Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, admitted in a speech earlier this year, "Despite rising rates of seizure at the border ... the drug trade is increasing as supply grows to meet ever increasing demand."
All images via the Australian Federal Police
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