SYDNEY • Australia has seized more than A$1 billion (S$1.04 billion) worth of methamphetamine in its biggest bust of the highly-addictive drug, police said yesterday.
The massive 1.2 tonne haul of methamphetamine, commonly known as "ice", was intercepted after it was offloaded from a boat, the Valkoista, which the authorities believe came from China.
Australia has the world's highest per capita consumption of crystal meth, and the country has become an increasingly attractive destination for drug-smugglers, with street prices soaring. Much of the ice hitting its streets comes from China and the Golden Triangle region where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet.
Eight men, all Australian, were charged with either importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, or possessing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, and face life in jail.
The seizure capped a six-month investigation, with Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Leanne Close alleging the ringleaders had been taken out.
"It equates to probably about A$1 billion of border controlled drugs that are no longer going to be on the streets of Australia over the Christmas period," she said yesterday. Police will allege in court that these men aimed to distribute the drugs along the east coast of Australia.
The Valkoista arrived at the port of Geraldton in Western Australia in the early hours of Thursday morning. The drugs were allegedly offloaded into a white hire van before tactical response officers swooped in, arresting three men inside.
Methamphetamine seized in Australia's biggest bust in the West Australian coastal town of Geraldton.
Estimated value: A$1 billion
When: Dec 22
Arrested: Eight men
Amount of Ice hidden in 70 boxes of floorboards shipped from China at a warehouse in the Victoria suburb of Nunawading.
Estimated street value: A$900 million
Arrested: Two men
Simultaneously, they boarded the boat and detained three crew members, with two others arrested at a hotel in Perth.
An Australian Crime Commission report in 2015 found that while US$80 (S$107) bought 1g of ice in China, the estimated 270,000 users in Australia had to pay US$500 for the same amount.
The previous biggest meth bust was 903kg, in Melbourne earlier this year.
Australia has identified China and India as key sources of the precursor chemicals needed to make ice, while China and Myanmar were notable makers of the end product.
Photos of the raid released by police show the van stuffed with large sacks that were stamped with Chinese characters for animal feed.
In recent years, law enforcement agencies across Asia keep making record busts but the seizures appear to have little effect on the sheer amount of ice hitting the streets.
In September, Canberra announced a new strategy to tackle the menace, involving reinforcing information-sharing arrangements with Interpol and Europol to better pinpoint organised crime groups.
It is also working more closely with law enforcement agencies in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Mekong region to smash syndicates and follow the money trails.