Customs Agents Charged in Record-Setting Crystal Meth Bust

Published: 05 December 2019

Police show methamphetamine hidden inside stereo speakers. (Australian Federal Police)Police show methamphetamine hidden inside stereo speakers. (Australian Federal Police)

By Nicholas Wells

Two customs agents and a man were charged with drug trafficking in what authorities are describing as Australia’s largest-ever seizure of methamphetamine after investigators discovered the drugs hidden inside a shipment of stereo speakers.

The drugs, more than 1.7 tons of heroin and methamphetamine, have a street value of  AUS$1.2 billion (US$830 million), Australian Federal Police said in a statement released  Thursday.

Two men, ages 37 and 38, and one woman, 37, were arrested in connection with the bust after a series of raids on Melbourne properties, the police said. The woman and one of the men, who were married to one another, worked as customs agents, according to Sky News.

“Two of the three were customs agents. They are trusted insiders within the industry," AFP Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan told Australian broadcaster ABC News. "They used their position of trust to circumvent the border controls that exist within Australia.”

He said the three worked as private contractors and weren’t government employees.

All three suspects were charged with one count of importing a commercial quantity of methamphetamine and one charge of importing a commercial quantity of heroin. The three face up to life in prison, if convicted.

The drugs were first discovered during a cargo search at Melbourne’s port in April, tucked away in speakers originating from Bangkok, police said. But no one had been arrested or faced charges until the police raids this week.

“Our officers are constantly alert to attempts to conceal illicit substances, no matter how creative criminal syndicates are in trying to hide them,” Assistant Commissioner Sharon Huey said in a statement.

“In this case, officers using x-ray technology detected anomalies inside the speakers, with the subsequent deconstruction of one allegedly revealing a number of vacuum sealed packages inside.”

The drugs seized in connection with the case accounted for 13 percent of all the drugs seized in Australia last year, police said. 

“The effect of these drugs on the community and families would have been profound. It may be your loved one, a friend or neighbour who has been spared the terrifying impact of this mammoth shipment,” Peter Vodel, the acting federal police commander, said in June when announcing the seizure.

The case is the latest example of drug traffickers turning to creative methods to smuggle drugs into the country.

In November, New South Wales police seized 400 kilograms of crystal meth hidden inside hot sauce bottles.

Three months before that, police discovered an estimated 755 kilograms of the same drug hidden inside cowhides sent from Mexico.

“Australia is a lucrative market for drug traffickers only due to the amount of drugs consumed by the public and the price paid for those drugs,” Gaughan said Thursday. “This is a social problem that is the responsibility of everyone to address.”