SYDNEY • Australian police have seized more than A$1 billion (S$1 billion) worth of methamphetamine, or Ice, concealed in inserts for bras and art supplies, in one of the country's biggest drug seizures, the authorities said yesterday.
Four Chinese nationals, three of them from Hong Kong, were arrested during the joint operation with Chinese narcotics authorities. Justice Minister Michael Keenan described the haul as the largest seizure of liquid methamphetamine in Australian history.
"This has resulted in 3.6 million individual hits of Ice being taken off our streets, with a street value of A$1.26 billion," he said.
Australia has a major problem with growing Ice use. A government report says Australia had proportionally more users than most countries, Australian Broadcasting Corp reported. The report showed that the use of the highly addictive drug had doubled since 2007 to more than 200,000 users in 2013.
Two months ago, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled a A$300 million strategy to combat the growing use of Ice.
Australian Federal Police Commander Chris Sheehan said the operation began last December when the Australian Border Force examined a shipping container from Hong Kong in Sydney. It originated in mainland China.
"That shipping container was found to contain gel bra inserts, and hidden inside those gel bra inserts was 190 litres of liquid methamphetamine," he said.
The seizure was referred to the Australian Federal Police, which began a probe that traced an additional 530 litres of liquid methamphetamine to five storage units in Sydney. The liquid was found inside art supplies, including children's paint-by-numbers kits, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
A 33-year-old Hong Kong man was arrested last month and charged in connection with the original seizure.
A further two Hong Kongers - a man, 37, and a woman, 52 - along with a mainland Chinese man, 59, were also charged with taking part in the manufacture of a commercial quantity of a prohibited drug over the stash in the storage units. All face life in prison if convicted, Commander Sheehan said.
The sting was part of Taskforce Blaze, a rare operation established last November between the Australian Federal Police and the Chinese National Narcotics Control Commission - the first joint effort between the two targeting the Ice market.
The seizures are estimated to be only a small fraction of the supply flooding the Australian market, as the wholesale price of illicit drugs has continued to drop. Australian criminal groups were paying as little as A$95,000 for a kilogram of Ice, down from A$220,000 18 months ago, Fairfax media reported on Sunday.