Law enforcement officials have seized 274 kilograms of ephedrine in what they say is one of the largest single hauls of the drug in Australian history.The drug, used in small amounts to make cold medicine but a key ingredient in crystal methamphetamine, was hidden in a shipment of rice from India to Melbourne. Authorities estimate the quantity seized could be used to manufacture up to 200kg of crystal meth with an estimated street value of up to $200 million.
They say it is the third-largest seizure of its kind in Australian history. The largest seizure remains an 800kg haul in 2001.
Four people - an Australian, an Indian national and two Canadian nationals - have been arrested and charged with supplying a commercial quantity of a prohibited drug.
A joint operation by the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Agriculture and Customs began after a consignment of 3,600 bags of rice, labelled 'basmati rice', arrived in Port Melbourne on July 16.
The Department of Agriculture says an analysis of the shipment identified a "crystalline substance", subsequently found to be ephedrine, loosely distributed throughout some of the rice bags.
The AFP then commenced a controlled delivery of the consignment to a storage facility in the Melbourne suburb of Springvale.
The drug was transported from there to the Sydney suburb of Fairfield.
AFP officers executed nine search warrants in Melbourne and Sydney on September 23, with evidence seized including $255,000 in cash.
An Australian and two Canadian nationals were subsequently arrested and charged.
The Indian national was arrested after local authorities acted on information provided by the AFP.
- 274kg of ephedrine found in bags of rice shipped from India to Melbourne
- Estimated it could make 200kg of crystal meth with street value of up to $200m
- Authorities say it's third-largest seizure of its kind in Australian history
- Four people including an Australian have been charged
What is ephedrine?
- A stimulant used as an ingredient in cough medicine
- Also used an an appetite suppressant and decongestant
- A key ingredient in the illegal drug crystal methamphetamine
- Reactions can include delusions, mild euphoria, insomnia, confusion, paranoia and agitation
AFP says multinational syndicate dismantled
AFP crime operations national manager Ian McCartney says authorities have dismantled a multinational syndicate and "significantly stemmed the flow of narcotics on to Australian streets".
"The syndicate is indicative of the nature of criminal enterprises that exist only to make a profit, regardless of the harmful effect these drugs will have on Australians once they hit our streets," he said in a statement.
"Our best weapon in combating these multinational syndicates is close collaboration between partner agencies here and overseas."
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay says larger drug hauls are becoming more common.
"It's huge. And it's something we're seeing more and more often these days," he said.
"The days of single organisations catching crooks like this are long gone.
"They're always joint operations with police, customs, AFP, with the tax office often.
"So it's good to see another really large bust."
Ephedrine has been used for other medical reasons including promoting weight loss and increasing blood pressure.
Adverse effects can include sweating, delusions, mild euphoria, paranoia and hostility.
Wed 25 Sep 2013
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