Seven face charges in Toronto after joint squad finds narcotics shipped to Australia
Oct 24, 2008 04:30 AM
The RCMP and police in Australia have smashed a GTA drug ring that sent a $110 million "shopping centre mixture" of speed, ecstasy and cocaine Down Under stashed in footbaths.
The six-month investigation began in May when Australian police intercepted a shipment of footbaths from the GTA in which 54 kilograms of methamphetamine and cocaine were concealed.
Over the next few months, they intercepted three more shipments to Sydney and Melbourne from Canada, containing 200 kilograms of cocaine, 214 kilograms of ecstasy pills and more than 130 kilograms of methamphetamine.
Australian police have arrested 14 people, including four Canadians. The RCMP arrested seven people in Toronto.
Ontario Provincial Police and officers from Peel and Toronto also helped shut down a related marijuana grow operation in Sudbury that netted 1,000 plants.
RCMP Insp. Rick Penney yesterday said the investigation represents a new level of co-operation among law enforcement agencies.
"Is Canada becoming known as an exporter of drugs? Virtually every country that's involved in drug production or drug use, consumption in some fashion, is seen to be a distributor or importer of drugs," Penney told media in Milton.
"Canada has always been seen as a trans-shipment point. Now it seems to be coming to the forefront."
Penney said crime is "percolating" internationally.
"Criminal enterprise now quite freely flows globally," he said. "We can move as freely as criminal enterprises can now."
In connection with the investigation, on Wednesday RCMP seized cash and weapons while raiding another marijuana grow operation at a GTA residence. Penney said the investigation is continuing and that more arrests are expected.
In another related arrest, U.S. authorities at Buffalo's border crossing seized 125,000 ecstasy pills bound for American markets.
In the probe involving shipments to Australia, dubbed Project OSPA (for "O" Division and "SPA"), Penney said shippers concealed the drugs in footbaths and the batteries of forklift trucks transported in containers by ship to Australia.
"It's the distribution network, the single venue of distribution through one organized group that really highlights this investigation ... the continual movement of drugs by this one group is very significant," he said.
Supt. Gerry Morris, the senior Australian Federal Police liaison officer stationed in Washington, D.C., said the seizure is among the largest in Australia.
She said the first seizure in May helped police there to alert authorities in Canada and follow further suspect shipments to Australia.
"We're better prepared to deal with this in the future," she said.