Australia Delivers Biggest Heroin Bust in a Decade

Published: 29 January 2019

smuggling copyDrugs imported into Sydney are on the rise (Photo: Coastguard)

By Harry Holmes

Australian officials charged four men on Sunday after seizing more than US$70 million worth of heroin and methamphetamine in Sydney in what was described as the continent’s biggest heroin bust in a decade.

An investigation discovered more than 150 kilograms of heroin, worth an estimated $55 million on a cargo flight from Malaysia. The drugs were stashed in wooden crates among contents purporting to be gym equipment and health supplements.

Following the arrests police searched six houses, finding an additional 35 kg of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of more than $19 million. The searches also located an additional 7.5kg of heroin, more than $140,000 in cash and financial documents.

Three men were charged with commercial drug supply while a fourth was charged with participating in a criminal group.

"It's significant. It's the largest in Australia for probably around 10 years for heroin," superintendent Garry Low told reporters.

"This detection makes up over 80 per cent of last year's total detections at the border."

A New South Wales Crime Commission report in October noted a growth in organised crime in cities including Sydney. “Crime networks in Australia appear to be increasing their efforts to import larger quantities of drugs,” it stated.

The groups are supplying a market increasingly dominated by methamphetamine. Australia consumes an estimated eight tonnes each year, ranking it second behind the US. Heroin consumption is about 800 kg per year.

The crime groups are often sourcing drugs from “the Golden Triangle” of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos and shipping them via Malaysia.   

With heroin production falling in Southeast Asia according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, traffickers are increasingly turning to methamphetamine. Producers in Myanmar in particular are leveraging regional conflict to invest in regions outside of the government’s control.

Malaysian officials registered its largest ever seizure of methamphetamine in May, a 1.2 ton shipment from Myanmar. Indonesia and Thailand also made record seizures of the drug in 2018.