WHEN a van hired by Sydney man Patrick Pak Lamb Li and Singaporean tourist Keng Chuan Koh broke down in Geelong, the last thing they wanted was a helping hand from two passing police officers.
The good Samaritan act by police on a routine patrol in North Geelong on December 18 triggered a chain of events that ended with the seizure of chemicals for the manufacture of more than half-a-billion dollars worth of ecstasy.
Police said last night the discovery of 1900 litres of methylenedioxyphenyl-2propane (MD2P) ready for conversion into 18.5 million ecstasy tablets was beyond anything they imagined to find.
The chemical, the second-last step in the process to make ecstasy, was found in Sydney on Wednesday night when police executed a search warrant on a storage unit in Castle Hill, Detective Superintendent Debbie Wallace said yesterday.
After initially being driven back by a strong chemical odour, hazardous chemical officers wearing protective clothing and breathing masks found 69 cardboard boxes containing the chemical inside the unit.
Superintendent Wallace said detectives had spent the past two weeks probing the movements of the two men arrested in Geelong, in particular 50-year-old Li, who said when arrested that he lived in the Sydney suburb of Campsie.
Koh, 27, has proved a mystery and Australian Federal Police are investigating his background.
Both men were arrested when the police officers in Geelong found 340 litres of MD2P inside the van.
Superintendent Wallace said police had no information linking either of the men to any crime gang.
All that is know of Koh is that he arrived in Sydney on a visitors visa in late November.
He and Li have been remanded to face the Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 13.
Police have yet to establish who the men intended to offload the drugs to in Victoria, or where the remaining chemicals found in Sydney were intended to go, though police held suspicions they were destined for a number of clandestine "super laboratories".
And while police suspect the chemical was imported into Australia, it is possible it was manufactured here.
"It would have to be one of the biggest seizures in Australia. Our inquiries have indicated that on conversion of this, that can amount to some 4.5 tonnes of MDMA (ecstasy) with an estimated street value of $540 million … some 18.5 million ecstasy tablets," Superintendent Wallace said.
"We entered the premises believing there would be a large quantity there but certainly the amount was overwhelming. We believe this will be a huge disruption to the drug market, not just in NSW but nationally. I certainly hope there are some people hurting somewhere as a result of this."
January 5, 2007