Furniture container held 'ice' ingredients

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    Furniture container held 'ice' ingredients

    ACROSS the tables of established Sydney restaurants, in university chemistry labs, and on trips to mainland China, federal police allege a drug syndicate plotted to import hundreds of litres of chemicals to be used to make ''ice'' and ecstasy.

    In a clandestine operation lasting seven months, police followed six men, tapped their phones and recorded their movements. It culminated in the seizure last year of more than 2000 litres of various chemicals and 200 kilograms of N-methylephedrine from a shipping container marked ''chairs and cabinets'' at Port Botany.

    The allegations were in a statement of facts tendered to the NSW Supreme Court last week.

    Among the alleged plotters was Peter Panayi, a banned company director and Port Botany container storage operator. The 60-year-old was granted bail on Friday after he was charged with conspiring to import a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug.

    He used his shipping business contacts to try to remove the chemicals before customs could examine the container, police allege. Justice Elizabeth Fullerton said the case against him was not strong.

    Police allege a 27-year-old Australian National University science student, Christopher Ian Burke, tested chemical samples for the syndicate and regularly travelled to Sydney to pass on results to co-conspirators.

    In April last year, Mr Burke paid $50 and promised a bottle of whisky to a friend at ANU's Chifley Building to do a ''spectrum test'' on a small glass cylinder of white crystals, police claimed.

    The following day, Mr Burke allegedly met 54-year-old Miras Popovic, of Annandale, at a Canberra cafe. The AFP recorded a conversation Mr Popovic had with another associate, Drago Popovic, in which he allegedly said: ''The woman is good … We're going to make some more children, it looks like.''

    Days later, Drago Popovic left Sydney for Hong Kong to join another syndicate member and both entered China at the Lok Ma Chau border crossing, the statement said.

    Police claim to have observed alleged conspirators meeting at various well-known Sydney restaurants, including Pilu at Freshwater, Seahorse in Randwick, The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, Lentini and Grappa restaurants in Leichhardt and Beppi's at Darlinghurst.

    On June 3, 2009, all six men, including two Chinese nationals, were arrested.

    The shipping container was also seized and later found to contain 200 kilograms of N-methylephedrine, 860 litres of hypophosphorous acid, 600 litres of benzaldehyde, 400 litres of nitroethane and 200 litres of methylamine.

    The chemicals could be used to make street drugs worth millions, including methamphetamine, commonly known as ''ice'', and MDMA, or ecstasy, police argued.

    When police arrested Mr Burke at his Canberra unit, they said they found drug test kit instructions, evidence of internet research into drug manufacturing and chemical analysis print-outs.

    Miras Popovic, who faces an additional charge of conspiring to manufacture drugs, was last week refused bail in the Supreme Court.

    The case resumes next month.

    March 17, 2010

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