Twelve people have been arrested after an international operation prevented $1 billion worth of cocaine from entering the country as part of a Mexican drug cartel.
Operation Beech, a joint effort between WA Police Transnational Serious and Organised Crime Squad, the Sydney Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration and other policing jurisdictions, commenced in November after the discovery of 2.4 tonnes of cocaine destined for Australia.
The shipment was located off the South American coastline, but intelligence suggested drug traffickers were unaware of the seizure, believing the drugs were on track to their destination.
Knowing the Australian end of the syndicate would be preparing to receive the drugs on December 28, WA Police substituted the cargo using an inert substance and identical packaging to that used by the cartel.
The covert operation saw Police drop the fake shipment about 40 nautical miles west of Perth, where a shore party allegedly made multiple efforts to locate and retrieve it.
Police will allege that the syndicate’s Australian shore counterparts made three trips out to sea in uncomfortable conditions unable to find the cargo between December 28 -30.
On December 30, officers from the Tactical Response Group arrested three members who were in possession of 1.2 tonnes of the inert substance after their boat had steering issues and washed up on the beach.
Police will further allege that other members of the syndicate retrieved the boat from its location and transferred the inert substances to their own vessel.
On December 31, nine men were charged with attempting to possess 1.2 tonne of cocaine after search warrants were executed across the metropolitan area.
Following New Year’s Eve, another man was arrested and charged with attempting to possess 200kg of cocaine.
Further intelligence led officers to a vehicle travelling on the Great Eastern Highway, where they discovered more than $2m cash and charged another man and a woman.
WA Commissioner of Police Col Blanch said it was a complex operation involving dozens of specialist officers and detectives.
“This operation has enabled us to draw out those members of the syndicate who were equipped and prepared to receive and distribute a significant amount of illicit drugs within the community, who may have otherwise gone undetected and waited for the next consignment,” Mr Blanch said.
“Our objective is to identify and apprehend those responsible for sending the drugs, but also those onshore criminal syndicates set to receive and profit through distribution in our community.
“The operation sends a message to international drug traffickers – your deadly drugs are not welcome here, and we will work closely and innovatively with our onshore and offshore law enforcement partners to dismantle your operations.
“The WA Police Force TSOC squad are continuing this investigation with offshore partners to identify and prosecute those responsible for organising this shipment.
“We want drug traffickers to actively avoid trying to use our coastline as an entry point.”
WA Police acknowledge the assistance provided by other state jurisdictions during this operation.
The twelve people accused are from America, NSW and the Northern Territory, will be processed through the court system in WA.