In a significant development, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have made a series of arrests in Victoria, targeting a crime syndicate believed to be operating in the area. This operation has resulted in the largest seizure of ketamine in Australia, drawing attention to the Hoppers Crossing region.
Over the course of two days, the AFP conducted targeted activities, leading to the confiscation of a staggering 174kg of ketamine. The wholesale value of this illicit substance is estimated to be around $6.9 million.
Among the apprehended individuals are two men, aged 37 and 33, from Altona and Sunshine North respectively. They are accused of coordinating an 80kg ketamine import. Additionally, a 32-year-old man from Hoppers Crossing has been taken into custody for allegedly attempting to take possession of the illegal drugs.
The arrests took place on July 11, 2023, in Lara, near Geelong, as part of an ongoing investigation into Transnational Serious and Organised Crime. The charges against the three individuals are related to the importation of the 80kg of ketamine, which was cleverly concealed within tubs of liquid cement that were shipped from Spain to Australia.
The investigation, codenamed Operation Woodgate, was initiated in late May following intelligence shared by the Spanish Guardia Civil with the AFP’s International Command. The suspicious consignment arrived in Melbourne on June 26, 2023, consisting of 360 buckets of liquid cement/micro cement.
During the operation, AFP officers meticulously examined the shipment and discovered approximately 80kg of ketamine concealed within plastic tubes, cleverly hidden inside around 40 buckets of liquid micro cement. The Sunshine North man took charge of collecting the ketamine and transporting it to a rural property in Lara. At this location, the Altona and Hoppers Crossing men unpacked the consignment, pouring out the liquid concrete to locate the illicit drugs.
With the assistance of Victoria Police, the AFP successfully apprehended the suspects and executed a search warrant at the Lara property. The search yielded multiple opened buckets of cement, mobile phones, and additional evidence related to the importation. Furthermore, law enforcement authorities discovered an additional 80kg of suspected ketamine buried in the ground at the same address.
The operational activities continued into the night and the following day, with authorities conducting searches at a residence in Altona, as well as two commercial storage facilities in Yarraville and Williamstown, both located in Melbourne’s western region. These searches led to the seizure of two high-powered gel blasters, approximately 25kg of suspected MDMA, around 14kg of suspected ketamine, and an estimated $210,000 in cash. Consequently, a total of 174kg of ketamine was confiscated as part of Operation Woodgate.
The Altona man, aged 37, faces multiple charges, including the importation of a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs (ketamine), attempt to possess commercial quantities of unlawfully imported border-controlled drugs (ketamine), possession of commercial quantities of border-controlled drugs (ketamine), and dealing in money or property that is proceeds of indictable crime of value AUD100,000 or more. The Sunshine North man, aged 33, has been charged with the importation of a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs (ketamine) and the attempt to possess commercial quantities of unlawfully imported border-controlled drugs. Lastly, the 32-year-old Hoppers Crossing man has been charged with the attempt to possess commercial quantities of unlawfully imported border-controlled drugs.
These offenses carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The three individuals are scheduled to appear before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 12, 2023.
While investigations remain ongoing, the AFP’s Detective Superintendent of Transnational Serious and Organised Crime, Anthony Hall, emphasized the agency’s commitment to combating the evolving methods employed by criminal syndicates in smuggling harmful substances into Australia.