The cabin crew of a small Malaysian airline allegedly smuggled more than $21 million worth of drugs into Australia over a number of years. Malindo Air—a Malaysian subsidiary of Indonesia’s Lion Air—confirmed that a member of its crew was detained by police upon arrival at Melbourne Airport last Monday. The 38-year-old woman was one of eight people arrested in relation to the smuggling enterprise over the past fortnight, Channel News Asia reports, with Australian police seizing a total 14 kilograms of heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine from the detainees. But investigators believe the criminal operation has been going on for at least half a decade.
"This is a significant seizure but I think reality would say that it's not the total amount of drugs that this team have brought into this country," Victoria State police crime command assistant commissioner Tess Walsh told reporters. "Intelligence would tell us that this crew has been operating for some years, I would say five plus… I don't know whether or not it's decades."
The arrests occurred as part of Operation Sunrise: a sting that involved the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force, and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the ABC reports. The joint investigative team has alleged that an international drug syndicate is behind the smuggling operation: employing cabin crews to carry the contraband on their bodies and bring it into the country via Melbourne and Sydney. One defendant allegedly told investigators that he was on his 20th trip into Australia.
Most of the other defendants were arrested during raids that took place across Melbourne between January 8 and 14. Police seized six kilos of heroin, eight kilos of meth, and half a kilo of cocaine, along with luxury cars, drug paraphernalia, and $100,000 in cash. Assistant Commissioner Walsh said the investigation was "active and ongoing".
In a statement, Malindo Air declared that they were “ready to cooperate with all the relevant authorities be it in Australia or in Malaysia”, and insisted that they don’t “condone any act that is criminal in nature or misconduct by our personnel." They also stressed their belief that their crew members' recent arrests were isolated incidents.
"Given all that we know to date and based on the findings of our internal investigations, we are confident that this arrest appears to be an isolated incident arising out of a crew's misconduct," they said. "None of our remaining Malindo Air crew on the said flight were detained."
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
This article originally appeared on VICE AU.