Australian police have seized 903 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine that was smuggled from China inside boxes of hollow floorboards — the largest ever haul of the illicit drug in Australia, officials said Wednesday.
Law enforcement agencies valued the seizure, mostly found in a Melbourne warehouse in February, at almost AUD$900 million (US$680 million).
Two Australian men, aged 53 and 36, had been charged with commercial drug trafficking and face a potential life prison sentence if convicted, police said. Police are searching for another two suspects in Melbourne.
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan described the concealment of the drug inside 70 boxes of wooden floorboards as “quite complex, quite unique.”
Gaughan said police knew the identity of the syndicate that supplied the methamphetamine, best known in Australia as ice. He would not be more specific than to say the drug originated from somewhere in Asia.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan praised Australia’s cooperation with China’s National Narcotics Control Bureau which he said had stopped 7.5 tonnes drugs from reaching Australian streets. Australia was the only Western country that had a joint taskforce with the Chinese bureau based at the port city of Guangzhou.
“It is a very serious blow to organised crime around the country,” Keenan said of the latest seizure.
Australia has a population of only 24 million, but its drug users are prepared to pay some of the highest prices in the world for the contraband.
Criminals could sell ice for prices 80 times higher in Australia than they could in China, Keenan said.
Australia has a growing problem with ice addiction and the government recently earmarked Aus$300 million for rehabilitation and education services to help address the issue.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hailed the “enormous” seizure and hit out the “merchants of death”.
“We are working internationally and nationally to catch these merchants of death, these people who traffic in ice, to catch them and intercept their deadly cargoes and we’re successful in doing that,” he said.
“We will be ruthless in our efforts to stop the smuggling and the trafficking of this drug.”
Australia’s previous largest haul of ice was almost 880 kilograms seized in Sydney in November 2014. The country’s largest seizure of cocaine was made in February when a yacht was intercepted off the east coast carrying 1.4 tonnes of the drug.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse