Australian police smash Asian drug ring, 27 arrested

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian police said on Friday that they had smashed a crime syndicate operating across Asia, leading to 27 arrests and the seizure of drugs and assets worth millions of dollars.

Authorities said the organised gang - operating in China, including in Hong Kong and Macau, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar - allegedly targeted Australia for its heroin and methamphetamine trade.

"We know that ice (methamphetamine) availability has been increasing on our streets," Victoria state police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana said.

"The dismantling of this organised crime syndicate, we expect, will dramatically effect that availability." Australian Federal Police said they had seized some 42kg of drugs along with A$4 million (S$5.3 million) in cash, in an operation launched in April 2012 to probe the alleged syndicate.

Also included in the haul were residential properties worth A$5 million, Aus$600,000 in casino chips, jewellery worth A$10,000, 99 designer handbags and wallets and a Lamborghini.

Police said Operation Volante was targeted at a longstanding crime gang they accuse of importing and trafficking substantial quantities of heroin and methamphetamine into and around Australia.

They allege that the group was living off the wealth obtained from crime in Australia.

Police in Victoria conducted search warrants at 37 sites across Melbourne this week, including homes, warehouses, car shops, accountant offices and security boxes, subsequently arresting five men and one woman.

The six have been charged with a range of offences including dealing in the proceeds of crime, trafficking commercial quantities of a drug and importing a marketable quantity of a drug.

Another 21 people arrested during the course of the probe have already appeared in courts in New South Wales and Victoria.

The Australian Federal Police's Commander David Sharpe said investigators had been "following the money trails, removing the wealth and cutting off distribution networks in Australia and internationally".

"This investigation is not over," he said.

"It continues across Australia and internationally and further arrests will be made."

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