Friday, June 21, 2024

Father and son jailed over major WA heroin haul

A father and son who called police about a multi-million dollar heroin importation as part of a failed ruse to avoid arrest for their involvement are among four men jailed in Western Australia over the 2021 trafficking plot.

The men have been sentenced to imprisonment for between eight and 12 years each over the importation of about 77kg of heroin into Australia via WA in May 2021, one of the State’s largest heroin seizures.

Details of the case can now be released publicly, after the fourth man was sentenced and suppression orders were lifted covering court hearings relating to the rest of the group.

The multi-agency drug trafficking investigation started in 2021 after information was provided by the Australian Border Force (ABF), which works with the AFP’s International Command to focus on offshore serious organised crime groups targeting Australia.

As a result of the intelligence, ABF officers searched a consignment of industrial kitchen equipment that arrived in Perth from Malaysia and found 220 blocks of heroin hidden inside cavities within two pieces of equipment.

The AFP replaced the illicit drugs with a harmless substance before the consignment was delivered as addressed to a business premises in the Perth southern suburb of Bibra Lake on 1 June, 2021.

Wooden crates containing the equipment with the substituted packages sat inside the warehouse unopened for a week, while the business was open and operating.

Authorities had the premises under surveillance when three men arrived on 8 June, 2021, opened the containers, transferred the packages into black duffel bags, loaded them into their vehicle and drove away.  

Shortly after, police intercepted the vehicle in a car park in the nearby suburb of Coolbellup and found the black bags containing the substituted packages on the back seat.

A West Australian father and son, then aged 47 and 25, were in the front seats of the car, while a man, then 24, from Burwood in New South Wales sat in the back seat.

A few minutes after arresting the trio, police intercepted a blue Camry they had seen driving in convoy with the trio’s vehicle after it left the Bibra Lake premises.

The man behind the wheel, then aged 26, was from Guildford in NSW. He had waited outside the Bibra Lake premises as a ‘look-out’, while the other men were inside collecting the packages.

Police later established the two NSW men had travelled to WA two days before they collected the packages from Bibra Lake, and were staying at a city hotel. The pair had planned to leave WA on 9 June.

“Investigations revealed the 24-year-old from NSW had recruited the younger WA man and helped negotiate his payment for assisting the syndicate to retrieve the heroin. The WA man then engaged his father to also help,” Australian Federal Police said in a statement.

“A review of electronic devices seized from the group revealed messages showing the 24-year-old NSW man had also received instructions about the drug collection and distribution from another unidentified person via a messaging app.

“After collecting the packages from Bibra Lake, the group was supposed to give the heroin to someone else in Perth and receive cash in return. They were in the car park waiting for further instructions about that planned exchange when police arrested them.”

AFP Commander Graeme Marshall said heroin, like other illicit drugs, caused widespread community harm through associated crime, drug-related traffic crashes and the burden on health and social services.

“The latest analysis of drug-induced deaths by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare attributed the deaths of 315 people across Australia in 2021 to heroin, after 462 deaths in 2020 were attributed to heroin,” Commander Marshall said.

“This investigation prevented drug traffickers from distributing heroin to potentially 770,000 people as street level deals and ensured the criminals involved did not share in the multi-million dollar payday they had expected.”

Commander Marshall said in the lead-up to the collection, the two WA men had exchanged messages to discuss ways they could make money but avoid being arrested.

“This included demanding payment upfront for their roles and then calling police about the plot in an attempt to absolve their involvement in the crime,” Commander Marshall said. “They discussed how they could pretend they had been tricked into taking part in the drug venture and threatened when they tried to pull out.

“There is some evidence the men were threatened with harm when they raised concerns just prior to retrieving the drugs once they realised the large quantity of heroin involved, however ultimately, both willingly became involved to make money. 

“Double-crossing and threats of violence are not uncommon in illicit drug trafficking and are a reminder of the risks of being involved in criminal activity. Three of the convicted men will now spend at least seven years in prison each before being eligible to apply for parole, while the fourth will be in custody for at least five years.

“We hope the outcomes in this matter send a strong message that the AFP and our partners are working tirelessly to identify and stop criminals from importing drugs into Australia and exploiting our communities.”

ABF Acting Commander Vesna Gavranich said ABF officers played a crucial role in the operation that led to the arrests and convictions of these four men.

“We are determined to disrupt and detect the activities of offshore serious organised crime groups that target Australia with illicit drug imports destined for our streets and this was an excellent result,” Acting Commander Gavranich said.

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