An international police operation between the United States and Australia has resulted in the seizure of 2.4 tonnes of cocaine, worth $1 billion, from reaching Western Australia. The operation, dubbed “Operation Beech”, is believed to be the nation’s biggest-ever drug bust.
The cocaine is alleged to be linked to a Mexican cartel and a dozen people have been arrested.
Operation Beech spanned six weeks and involved surveillance and resources. The US Drug Enforcement Administration intercepted 2.4 tonnes of cocaine bound for WA off the South American Coast in November.
Intelligence suggested the alleged drug traffickers were unaware of the seizure and the Australian arm of the syndicate was expecting to receive the shipment around December 28.
The police substituted the cargo for fake cocaine using identical packaging and dropped it 40 nautical miles west of Perth while keeping an eye on it using drones and helicopters.
It is alleged that the syndicate used two boats, Catalina and Cool Runnings, to make several attempts to find and retrieve the cargo.
On December 30, Tactical Response Group officers arrested three men onboard the Cool Runnings with approximately 1.2 tonnes of the fake cocaine, after the boat had washed up on the beach near Moore River, 70km north of Perth.
It is alleged that others, onboard the Catalina, went looking for Cool Runnings, towing it back out to sea to transfer the fake drugs, before Cool Runnings sank.
Raids were carried out across Perth, including on the Catalina at Hillarys Boat Harbour, as well as various hotels.
Police also stopped a vehicle on the Great Eastern Highway, near Coolgardie, where they found more than $2 million in cash. They charged a 39-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman allegedly connected to the syndicate.
The 12 people who have been arrested are from WA, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and United States.
Operation Beech was a joint effort between WA Police Force Transnational Serious and Organized Crime Squad and the Sydney Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, with assistance from other state policing jurisdictions.
The bust is believed to be the largest drug seizure in Australian history. It is also a testament to the cooperation between international law enforcement agencies, in particular between the US and Australia.
WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the operation was an opportunity to catch the syndicate – the group of people that were capable of receiving it, landing it and then distributing it across Australia.
He also said that the WA Police Force would come after those involved in drug trafficking regardless of where they live on earth.
WA Deputy Commissioner Tony Longhorn said implementing collaborative and innovative strategies in police intelligence would be key to tackling drug activity.
He added that the bust was a confidence booster and that every time such operations are conducted, the limitations of police capabilities are tested.
He said the need for the police to change up their game as criminal syndicates are always changing up theirs.
The bust highlights the ongoing challenge of drug trafficking and smuggling in Australia, particularly via its long coastline.
The involvement of international drug cartels and the sophisticated methods they use to evade detection by law enforcement agencies presents a significant challenge to the authorities.
It also raises questions about the effectiveness of border control measures, as the cocaine was intercepted before it reached Australian shores but the drug syndicate was still able to organize for its retrieval in Australian waters.
There is a need for continued cooperation and innovation in intelligence gathering and policing strategies to tackle.
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