Three men have been arrested as National Crime Agency officers targeted an organised crime group manufacturing specialist hides for drugs in industrial machinery. A series of raids were launched across south east England yesterday morning (Tuesday 19 July) as part of an operation linked to the interception of 125 kilos of cocaine destined for Sydney, Australia, on 11 July.
The drugs, which would have had a UK street value of approximately £20 million, were found in a specially constructed concealment built into a diesel generator. The operation saw a 29-year-old arrested in Wickford, Essex, a 43-year-old arrested in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire and a 42-year-old arrested in Romford, Essex. All were held on suspicion of conspiracy to export a controlled drug and are being questioned by NCA officers.
Industrial premises in Rayleigh, Essex, South Ockenden and Feltham, west London, were also searched. Officers found a generator with a concealment at the South Ockenden address, cannabis plants and a number of stolen vehicles. High value jewellery was also found at one address.
Investigators suspect the crime group had specialised in making concealments within machinery, with a number of industrial generators specially adapted to create a space to hide illicit goods.
Earlier this year, Operation PHOBETOR – a joint squad combining the NSW Police Force (NSWPF), Australian Federal Police (AFP), and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) – in partnership with Australian Border Force (ABF), the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (UKNCA), and the United Kingdom Border Force (UKBF) – commenced investigations into a criminal syndicate suspected to be involved in the importation of prohibited drugs.
Their inquiries uncovered an airfreight consignment which was found to contain 125kg of cocaine concealed within the base of an industrial generator. The total estimated street value of the drugs is $50 million.
Following extensive inquiries, Organised Crime Squad detectives – assisted by Tactical Operations Unit (TOU), PolAir, and other specialist units – commenced a police operation at a property in Cawdor from 5pm yesterday afternoon (Tuesday 19 July 2022).
During that operation, two vehicles – including a Mercedes van and Pantech truck – left the property and travelled along the M7 before police attempted to stop both near Walgrove Road at Horsley Park.
It’s alleged the driver of the truck rammed several police cars before both vehicles were stopped following a short pursuit.
The driver and passenger of the truck – two men aged 29 and 32 – as well as the driver of the van, a 29-year-old man, were all arrested and taken to local police stations. Later that evening, detectives – assisted by Public Order Riot Squad (PORS) – executed a search warrant at a property in Lane Cove.
A number of items and both vehicles have since been seized for forensic analysis. Organised Crime Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Robert Critchlow, said police will allege the men form part of a sophisticated network involved in the commercial supply of drugs across the globe. “This was clearly a highly coordinated syndicate who have gone to extreme efforts both here and in Europe to ensure their shipment of drugs arrived uninhibited,”
Det Supt Critchlow said. “Our intelligence sharing capabilities both here and overseas has resulted in the complete devastation of this criminal enterprise – and the prospect of a lengthy prison term for each of those involved.
NCA Branch Commander Lydia Bloomfield said: “Our investigation has targeted a network we suspect was providing a rare and highly sophisticated service to other organised crime groups.” “A shipment of this quantity of cocaine from the UK to Australia is unusual but demonstrates the global scale of the class A drugs trade – which causes violence and intimidation throughout its supply chain.
“This operation has been planned and carried out alongside our partners including Border Force and New South Wales Police. We work closely with partners around the world to combat the highest risk organised crime threats.”
Acting ABF Commander Trade and Travel Operations East, Elke West, stressed the important role that strong law enforcement partnerships play in disrupting and dismantling criminal syndicates involved in the importation of border-controlled drugs.
“The ABF works tirelessly with its partners both here in Australia and internationally to ensure illicit drugs don’t reach our communities,” said A/g Commander West.
“This is another great result, and we will continue to work closely with our partners to detect and disrupt criminal efforts to circumvent our border controls.”
Greek mythology has inspired Australian authorities’ latest bid to become organised crime’s biggest nightmare.
Bikie groups, cartels and triads will be targeted by Australia’s criminal intelligence organisation, along with federal and NSW police, under Operation Phobetor named after the Greek god of nightmares.
“(It’s) hitting them where it’s going to hurt them … taking their assets,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told reporters from Australian Federal Police headquarters in Canberra on Monday.
The latest operation aims to build off another, dubbed Ironside, that led to the arrest of more than 300 people and the seizure of tens of millions of dollars.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw pledged to be “relentless” in hunting down criminal networks including those based in hostile countries.
“We’ll be going after the logistical arms, their financial arms and their operation arms all at once and it’s not been done before at the scale we’re going to embark on,” he said.
“Whether you’re Australian or not, and you’re targeting, peddling misery into our communities whether it be methamphetamine, heroin or cocaine, we’re going to be coming after you.”
The task force involves about 20 officers from federal and NSW branches as well as the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
They will target “dangerous criminals living the high life from bankrolling corruption, illicit drug trafficking and money laundering”.
The task force will use beefed up powers including allowing access to suspected criminals’ computers to crack encrypted communications and track the movements of ill-gotten money.
It also aims to sniff out criminal groups previously flying under the radar of authorities, as well as blackmail attempts targeted at the private and public sectors.