A Forestville property has been raided in a major international drug bust.

Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Border Force (ABF) and US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) conducted a joint investigation into the importation of cocaine.

A 68-year-old man from Forestville has been arrested and a shipment of approximately 552kg of cocaine concealed in bags of banana pulp from Brazil has been seized.

The agencies formed joint Operation Stalwart in September 2020 following information from HSI about a suspect shipment destined for Australia.

ABF officers examined the consignment which arrived in Sydney from Brazil on 21 September 2020. The refrigerated container held close to 2,000 boxes of assorted fruit pulp. Further examination revealed approximately 275 boxes in the shipment contained banana pulp.

ABF officers identified anomalies within these boxes, with closer examination revealing a white substance secreted in the bags of banana pulp. Preliminary testing of the substance returned a positive result for cocaine.

AFP Crime Scene Investigators removed the cocaine from the banana pulp bags and reconstructed the shipment in preparation for a controlled delivery.

The cocaine totalled approximately 552kg, which has an estimated street value of $248m.

A controlled delivery of the shipment started in early October 2020, where the boxes containing the banana pulp were delivered to a storage facility in south-west Sydney.

Throughout the following two weeks, police will allege a 68-year-old Forestville man collected 139 boxes of the banana pulp. It will also be alleged in court the man searched through the bags of banana pulp seeking to remove the cocaine.

The joint investigation resulted in search warrants being executed Friday, 16 October 2020, with assistance from ABF, HSI and the NSW Police Force State Crime Command Drug Squad.

The 68-year-old man was arrested at his residence in Forestville, and charged with:

  • One count attempt to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs contrary to section 307.1, by virtue of section 11.1, of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth); and
  • One count attempt to possess a commercial quantity of unlawfully imported border controlled drugs contrary to section 307.5, by virtue of section 11.1, of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

These offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

During the search warrants, officers seized mobile phones, a laptop, plastic bags of banana pulp, a box labelled as banana pulp, a case of green stones suspected to be emeralds, and five one-kilogram silver ingots.

AFP Detective Superintendent Geoffrey Turner said COVID-19 border restrictions have not prevented criminal groups from trying a range of methods to bring illicit drugs into Australia.

“Organised crime groups and their associates are taking bigger risks and looking to move more illicit goods in bulk as a result of global lockdowns – they think that choosing everyday items such as fruit would be innocuous enough to thwart law enforcement detection,” said Detective Superintendent Turner.

“To people who think cocaine may be harmless and part of the party scene – remember this: it is a powerful, addictive stimulant, that makes its way to Australia through a chain of violence and exploitation, and every time you use it only fuels this destruction, and line the pockets of organised crime.”

ABF Superintendent Regional Investigations NSW, Garry Low, said the detection showed the valuable role the ABF plays in protecting the border, and the success of our multi-layered approach to border protection.

“The ABF’s technical capabilities and highly trained officers frequently seize different quantities of this illicit and dangerous substance. ABF officers work every day to detect and disrupt these types of criminal operations, no matter how sophisticated they are,” said Superintendent Low.

“My message to anyone thinking of engaging in this type of activity, is to reconsider. Our wide range of detection methodologies can pick up a concealment however well-hidden criminals believe it is – and inside frozen fruit is no exception.”

The 68-year-old man appeared in Sydney Central Local Court Friday, 16 October 2020, and has been remanded in custody. He is next to appear in court on Wednesday, 16 December 2020.

For free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drug treatment services call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.

Images & video: Australian Federal Police