$120 million drug shipment hidden in highlighters seized at border.
A man has been charged with allegedly importing almost 300kg of ephedrine, used to make the drug ice, which was found concealed in 21,000 highlighter pens following a joint investigation by the Australian Border Force and NSW Police.
On February 10, a container carrying five pallets of pens and other stationery arrived in Sydney from China.
When the container was taken to the ABF’s container examination facility for x-ray, officers noted anomalies in 50 boxes of highlighters.
Subsequent testing of the substance revealed positive results for ephedrine with a total weight of 294kg.
Police will allege in court that the drug haul could have been used to make about 2.4 million hits of ‘ice’, with an estimated potential street value of $120 million.
Ephedrine is a chemical precursor used to manufacture illicit methamphetamine, or ice, because of its structural similarity. It is illegal to import into Australia.
Last week, ABF investigators and detectives from the Drug and Firearms Squad conducted a controlled delivery to a storage facility in Sydney’s inner west.
On Friday, three men, aged 26, 27, and 34, attended the facility and were arrested by undercover agents after they allegedly accessed the consignment.
The 27-year-old man has been charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled precursor, while the other two men were released pending further inquiries.
Investigators also executed a search warrant at a home in Glebe and seized a number of items.
ABF Investigations Superintendent Garry Low said the use of highlighters was a unique way of concealing the illegal substance.
“We’ve recently invested heavily in upgrades to x-ray technology at our container examination facilities, including here in Sydney, allowing our officers to see further in to each container and detect even more sophisticated concealments,” Superintendent Low said.
“This technology, combined with the significant skills of our investigators, and our collaboration with our state police colleagues has once again seen a large amount of precursors seized before it could be turned into millions of hits of ‘ice’.
“ABF and our partners have made a significant dent in the availability of ice over the past 12 months, with the seizure more than 2 tonnes of ephedrine at the border in NSW alone.”
Drug and Firearms Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Peter McErlain, said targeting ice and precursors remains a priority for NSW Police Force and their partners.
“Ice poses a unique challenge for law enforcement, as we need to intercept the illicit importation of both finished product and precursors, such as ephedrine,” Det Supt McErlain said.
“These types of seizures can have a significant impact on the availability of ice across NSW, but our work does not stop at importations – we are also targeting the supply of this poison in metropolitan, regional and rural areas, and the crude manufacture in clandestine laboratories.
“Criminal syndicates profit from the misery created by these illicit substances, so as much as anything, the community focus needs to be on reducing the demand for all illicit drugs.”
The accused man has been formally refused bail to reappear in court on Wednesday.
The maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $900,000.