Crime & Justice

Australian police seize yacht, charge 2 in huge drug bust

Sydney, Australia, Apr 19 (efe-epa).- A yacht carrying over one ton of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of AU$750 million ($477.2 million) has been seized from waters off the state of New South Wales, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said Sunday.

“A total of 1,009 blocks, each approximately one kilogram, have now been unloaded from the vessel by specialist forensics officers. One tonne of methylamphetamine has a potential estimated street value of up to $750 million,” AFP said in a statement.

A 33-year-old New Zealand national and a 35-year-old man holding dual UK/South African citizenship were arrested on board “La Fayette” and charged with importing a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs.

They were to appear before Parramatta Bail Court in Sydney Sunday via video link and face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The seizure came after an investigation named Operation Romani, involving members of the AFP, New South Wales Police, Border Force and agencies in the United Kingdom and New Caledonia.

On Thursday, New Caledonian authorities alerted to AFP and the Border Force to the arrival of a vessel of interest into Pacific waters Wednesday.

Police allege it had been near Norfolk Island, a remote Australian island in the South Pacific, before traveling to New Caledonia where the crew declared they had traveled from Mexico.

The Australian investigative team then identified the “La Fayette” as a second vessel of interest, with police suspecting it was loaded with drugs around Norfolk Island, and then its movements were tracked.

At around 4 am Saturday, New South Wales police intercepted the “La Fayette” about 50 nautical miles east of Lake Macquarie and it was towed to Balmain, Sydney.

“Organized crime groups will stop at nothing – not even a global pandemic – to try and flood our communities with drugs for greed and profit,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Eastern Command Justine Gough said in the same statement.

NSW Police Force State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said “the two offenders and all officers on the vessel were decontaminated and tested for (COVID-19).”

“With every seizure we make, a syndicate is taken down and it’s evident this criminal network has gone to extreme measures to traffic drugs into NSW with current international travel restrictions,” he added.

Further investigations between Australia and offshore agencies are continuing and more arrests have not been ruled out, the AFP said. EFE-EPA

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