Queensland Police have arrested and charged more than a dozen people alleged to be involved in an interstate drug syndicate, after detectives intercepted a plane outside Brisbane.
The light aircraft left Melbourne and landed at Redcliffe Airport, outside Brisbane, around 2:00pm on Monday.
North Brisbane Criminal Investigation Branch Detective Senior Sergeant Ken Rogers said two people were inside the plane and were met on the tarmac by a third person, who had arrived in a 4WD.
“The three men then stood on the tarmac and conducted what appeared to be a drug transaction,” he said.
“It was at that time that specialist units swooped, moved in, apprehended and took all three men into police custody.”
Police said a search found about $1 million in cash contained in two boxes in the rear section of the plane.
Detectives also searched the 4WD and said they located five large sports bags containing cannabis in cryovac packaging, known as cannabis bricks, weighing about 120 kilograms, with an estimated street value of $3.5 million.
Officers then carried out simultaneous raids on homes, business premises and a number of storage sheds across north Brisbane.
“These raids yielded further drugs and more cash,” Detective Senior Sergeant Rogers said.
“There was a further 50 kilos of cannabis seized from one of the storage sheds and in excess of $1.5 million in cash.”
The bust is part of an 18-month-long operation, Operation Romeo Mugwort, which has resulted in a total of $8.5 million in cash, weapons, ammunition, cocaine and cannabis being seized.
So far, 14 men, aged between 25 and 60, have been arrested on 144 charges. Eight were charged with trafficking.
A number faced the Brisbane Magistrates Court this morning, including Adam Lee King, 36, Michael Pires, 44, and Christopher Chapman, 29, charged with trafficking.
The Queensland Police Service said the investigation covered Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory and investigations are continuing into links to Thailand.
“In relation to the origins of the drugs and where the cash is ending up, those investigations are still ongoing,” Detective Senior Sergeant Rogers said.
“It’s probably fair to say that although this is a closure of one aspect of the investigation, this isn’t the end; it’s in fact the beginning.”
‘COVID made syndicate evolve’
Detective Senior Sergeant Rogers described the alleged operation as a sophisticated drug network, with people using cypher phones and different modes of transport.
“They used Redcliffe Airport, they also used Archerfield Airport and they also used vehicle transports as well,” he said.
But police believe that, like everything, the pandemic disrupted the operation.
“There was definitely a shift in their mode of transport and their choice of product,” he said.
“They were using aircraft and schedule-one drugs but then when we saw COVID hit, it sort of shifted more towards vehicle and cannabis.”
He described the investigation as “particularly difficult” and its completion was due largely to the tenacity and dedication of the investigative team.
“Drugs of this magnitude being taken off the streets of Queensland, and the ill-gotten gain taken out of the hands of these criminals, makes Queensland a safer place for us all to live in.”