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BUNDABERG IN QLD & SYDNEY IN NSW RAIDED FOR COCAINE & CASH

An international sting has ended with the seizure of 300 kilograms of cocaine in Bundaberg and boxes of cash in Sydney  upwards of $3.5 million & still counting.

Four Spanish nationals have been arrested and Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Kevin Zuccato, the national manager for serious and organised crime, said police believed one of them to be ‘‘very high up’’ in an international syndicate they had been  investigating since February this year.

Mr Zuccato said the cocaine has a wholesale value of $78 million, but on the street it would sell for ‘‘much, much more’’@ least double that amount

Cocaine found concealed in a suitcase inside the yacht.Cocaine found concealed in a suitcase inside the 16metre yacht.

Police estimated street value to be about $400 a gram, pushing the value of the 300 kilogram haul up to around $120 million.

‘‘There is certainly an appetite for cocaine,’’ Mr Zuccato said,

‘‘This shows it doesn’t matter where (criminals) go, or what they do, Australian law enforcement will catch up with them.’’

Australian Federal Police and Customs officers swoop on a boat at the Bundaberg Port Marina on Saturday morning, after about 90kg of cocaine was found in a car pulled over the night before.Australian Federal Police and Customs officers swoop on a boat at the Bundaberg Port Marina on Saturday morning, after about 90kg of cocaine was found in a car pulled over the night before. Photo: Max Fleet/Bundaberg News Mail

After the yacht was raided, police also launched weekend raids on a Gold Coast address, where they allegedly found $290,000 in cash, and a Sydney Bondi address where they found five boxes of cash that were still being counted. The current count is at about $3.5 million.

The nine-month operation began in February, when the AFP noticed large quantities of money being moved offshore and began a money laundering investigation.

The investigation, code-named Operation Avalon, eventually brought together the AFP, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Queensland Police Service and authorities in Vanuatu.

The Friday Freedom was allegedly used in a drug smuggling operation.The yacht ‘Friday Freedom’ was allegedly used in a drug smuggling operation.

In September, the ACBPS flagged a yacht called Friday Freedom as a subject of interest, moored at Port Vila in Vanuatu and scheduled to sail to Australia. They believed the yacht had connections to a drug crime syndicate.

Mr Zuccato said Friday Freedom was sailed from Vanuatu to Australia by a 35-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman, who arrived in Bundaberg on October 20.

In a move he called ‘‘extremely patient’’, the yacht sat in the marina for three weeks before their partners in Sydney and Gold Coast made their move.

Cocaine concealed inside a suitcase.Cocaine concealed inside this suitcase.

‘‘An individual from Sydney received some information and decided they were ready to act,’’ Mr Zuccato said.

‘‘They had been communicating with the people on the boat moored in Bundaberg, three weeks is a long time to wait.

‘‘They were very patient.’’

Last Thursday, the 38-year-old man allegedly drove from Sydney to the Gold Coast where he stayed at the residence of a 39-year-old man at Surfers Paradise.

Mr Zuccato said they drove from the Gold Coast to Bundaberg the next morning and went on board the yacht.

The pair had hired a Corolla and a Pajero motor vehicle and allegedly left the boat with about 100 kilograms  of cocaine in two suitcases.

They loaded the suitcases into the cars and began to drive away.

‘‘That is when the decision was made to move in on them for security reasons,’’ Mr Zuccato said.

Police arrested the two men driving away and the two people on the Friday Freedom before they moved the yacht to a dry dock to be searched.

They allegedly found more cocaine, which had been wrapped in black tape and plastic to keep it dry and stored in the hull of the boat.

Mr Zuccato said police were interviewing the foursome and believed the 38-year-old to be a kingpin in the international crime syndicate.

‘‘This is really only the beginning of investigations,’’ he said.

Police believe the cocaine originated from South America and they are not sure where exactly where it was destined once it was taken off the yacht, but police believed it had no connection to Schoolies Week.

The cocaine will be forensically examined before being burnt in industrial incinerators.

‘‘This operation demonstrates that the AFP, with our international and domestic partners, has the capability, resources and commitment to successfully detect and dismantle the most sophisticated organised crime groups,’’ Mr Zuccato said.

‘‘The AFP seized 796 kilograms of cocaine last financial year, an increase of 103 per cent on the previous year.

‘‘As long as organised crime groups target Australia we will continue our efforts to disrupt their activities and arrest those who seek to bring harm to the Australian community.’’

The four Spanish nationals are scheduled to appear in Bundaberg Magistrates Court today to face charges relating to the import of a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug.


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