Call 000 if you need urgent help
Editor’s note: Vision and images of the operation are available via Hightail
The AFP has dismantled a significant organised crime enterprise by charging five Sydney men for their roles in importing about 100kg of cocaine in the cargo hold of a passenger plane from South Africa.
The five men all appeared in Parramatta Local Court on Sunday, 8 October 2023, and were remanded in custody to reappear on 30 November 2023.
A Padstow man, 42, is alleged to have been the primary Australian facilitator of this endeavour, liaising with organised figures overseas to source the cocaine, have it placed on an aircraft and then arrange for its onward distribution in Australia.
A Hillsdale man, 62, allegedly coordinated the activities of two men working at the airport to facilitate the removal of the cocaine from the aircraft and deliver it to an associate of the Padstow man.
It was alleged a Mascot man, 55, and Coogee man, 61, used their employment and access to freight handling operations at Sydney’s international airport to facilitate the removal of five large bags containing the cocaine from a container in the cargo hold of an aircraft, recently arrived from South Africa, and out of the secure airside area on Saturday, 7 October 2023.
These two trusted insiders then allegedly transferred the five bags to a car driven by a Sydney man, 24, outside an airport freight terminal. It will be alleged the Sydney man was acting on behalf of the Padstow man to collect the cocaine ahead of onward distribution in Australia. All three men were arrested shortly after the handover on Saturday afternoon.
Each of the five bags found in the car contained bricks of a white substance wrapped in black plastic. Forensic testing confirmed the substance was cocaine, with each bag containing about 20kgs.
The Hillsdale man was arrested by AFP members less than two hours later in Coogee. The Padstow man was arrested at Rushcutter’s Bay later on Saturday evening.
The AFP investigation, codenamed Operation Lucian, began in October 2022 following a report from an airline of suspicious activity that occurred near the cargo area of a Sydney-bound flight in Johannesburg.
Subsequent AFP investigations in Australia identified the Mascot and Coogee men as being in the vicinity of that inbound flight upon arrival at Sydney Airport, and removing items from the cargo hold.
The group has been the subject of a 12-month AFP investigation to determine the extent of any criminal activity.
The AFP received significant assistance from the airline throughout this investigation, as well as the Sydney Airport Corporation and Australian Border Force.
The three men arrested in the vicinity of the airport were charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, namely cocaine, contrary to section 307.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). They were also charged with possessing a commercial quantity of cocaine, contrary to section 307.5 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). The maximum penalty for these offences is life imprisonment.
The Padstow and Hillsdale men were each charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of cocaine, contrary to section 307.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), by virtue of section 11.5. The maximum penalty for this offence is life imprisonment.
The AFP executed four search warrants at houses in Coogee, Mascot and Hillsdale (two) on Saturday evening (7 October 2023), seizing a small quantity of drugs and a number of electronic devices.
AFP Detective Superintendent Kristie Cressy said the AFP was committed to targeting disrupting organised crime syndicates undermining Australia’s national security, economy and social security.
“Transnational serious organised crime groups actively try to corrupt people working at our airports because their access to airside operations is an active and efficient way to facilitate the importation of illicit drugs,” she said.
“The AFP and its partners – including airport operators, airlines and service providers – treat matters such as this as a priority because of the damage this type of corruption can cause to our communities and businesses.
“People with trusted access in an airport precinct are critical to the successful operation of Australia’s tourism and trade sectors, but the AFP will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute those who abuse this trust by assisting and profiting from organised crime.
“We will allege the organiser of this importation was well-organised and well-resourced, while the men working with trusted insiders had the potential to assist numerous criminal endeavours if they were allowed to continue unchecked.”
The cocaine haul could have been sold as 100,000 individual street deals, with an estimated street value of $40 million.
Media are encouraged to include help-seeking information in stories about illicit drugs to minimise any negative impact on people in the community. The following services provide people with access to support and information.
AFP Media: (02) 5126 9297
Follow our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube pages to learn more about what the AFP does to keep Australia safe.
Enter your contact details to receive our latest media releases, speeches and other news.
By subscribing, you consent to the AFP sharing your details with our service provider, Swift Digital, for use in relation to this service. Swift Digital may collect personal information which may contain email addresses and other information to be used to send you media statements related to your subscription preferences. All information collected using the Swift Digital service is the property of the AFP and is never shared or used by third parties. All data is maintained within Australia and never leaves Australian jurisdiction.
You can unsubscribe from our mailing services at any time by simply clicking the unsubscribe button at the bottom of the emails you receive through this service.
See our Privacy Policy for more information about how we handle your personal information.
The Australian Federal Police acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia, and their continuing connection to land, sea and community.
We pay our respects to First Nations people, culture and Elders past, present and emerging.