X-ray reveals $186m of cocaine and ice hidden inside mining equipment

A piece of mining equipment used to hide drugs. Photo: Supplied Cocaine and methamphetamine hidden inside a piece of mining equipment. Photo: Supplied
Nanjing Night Net

The drugs seized by the AFP. Photo: Supplied

The drugs hidden inside a piece of mining equipment and covered with charcoal. Photo: Supplied

Border police have used sophisticated X-ray technology to make a huge drug bust, uncovering cocaine and ice worth $186 million concealed inside heavy mining machinery being transported from South Africa.

Four men involved in a well-known drug syndicate were arrested in Sydney on Sunday after the illicit cargo was first detected by Australian Border Force officers at the Port of Melbourne in December.

Using upgraded container X-ray equipment, police discovered the haul of 254kg of cocaine and 104k of methamphetamine after detecting anomalies with an iron ore extractor. Activated charcoal was used to hide the drugs and to throw off detection, police said.

Australian Federal Police investigators then tracked the shipment from Melbourne by rail to Sydney, where three men were taken into custody after trying to access the drugs at a storage facility. The drugs are believed to have originated in China and South America.

Additional search warrants were issued on the NSW Central Coast, which resulted in the discovery of a large amount of cash in a compressed block of $100 notes.

A 47-year-old man from the central coast suburb of Watanobbi and 75-year-old male South African citizen were charged with importing and possessing commercial quantities of illicit drugs. A 39-year-old man from Sydney suburb Doonside was also charged with possessing a commercial amount, while a 38-year-old Roxburgh Park man was charged with importation.

The seizure marks the latest in a series of large drug raids by police, which included 1.4 tonnes of cocaine found on a yacht off the NSW coast last month. That haul was the largest cocaine bust in history.

AFP Commander John Beveridge said police had seized nearly three tonnes of cocaine since November. The latest confiscation resulted in more than two million hits of cocaine and ice being taken off the streets, he said.

“We pay an extraordinary high price for drugs in Australia, I think that’s been well reported,” he said.

“These syndicates, as you can see by the five large investigations in Sydney and Melbourne since November, people are trying to flood us. And we’re doing everything we can to stop them.”

James Watson, ABF Regional Commander Victoria and Tasmania, said the more recent seizure capped off a “bumper season” for drug detections.

He said the improved container X-ray allowed police to stay one step ahead of organised crime syndicates that were employing sophisticated measures to try and get drugs into the country.

“It allows our X-rays to look further into sea containers than we have ever been able to do,” he said.

“In this instance, the upgraded X-ray facility was able to penetrate through several layers of really heavy industrialised steel.”

Three men were remanded in custody after appearing in Sydney Central Local Court on February 6.

A fourth man appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court on February 8, where he was remanded in custody. He will re-appear on Friday for a filing hearing.

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