AUSTRALIAN Federal Police officers arrested two men on Thursday with one being labelled the country’s “most significant organised crime threat” for allegedly planning to import hundreds of kilogrammes of heroin hidden in cans of paint which Thai customs officials seized last July, Amarin TV, Australian Associated Press and Daily Mail said.
The two men who live near Sydney, with one identified as Mr. Ivan Ishek, 38, and the other, who is 41 years old, remained unidentified, were charged with planning to import 314 kilogrammes of heroin hidden in cans of paint from Thailand.
This large amount of heroin would be worth up to $117 million (about 3.824 billion baht) if it had reached the Australian market.
Thai customs officials had seized this big lot of heroin on July 5 this year with the drug packed in yellow boxes and hidden at the bottom of dozens of paint cans. All were stored in a container ready for shipment from Thailand to Australia.
Australian Federal Police officers arrested the two men on Thursday after they allegedly used an encrypted communications platform to plan the 314kg shipment from Thailand.
Little did they know the AN0M platform they were using was covertly run by the FBI, a sting operation which has led to more than 220 arrests across Australia.
After intercepting the men’s communications, officers searched two homes in June and July, seizing encrypted communication devices, a knuckle duster, a butterfly knife and a small amount of MDMA.
They then spent four months scouring the men’s messages, linking their online pseudonyms to their real world identities and prompting their arrests.
Police again searched two homes on Thursday, this time at Edensor Park and Cambridge Park, seizing $300,000 in cryptocurrency, $12,000 in cash, a luxury watch worth $50,000, steroids and cannabis.
The arrests are a big win for Australian police, who say the 38-year-old was a “priority target” for Australian authorities – the only one within their country.
“Most of these targeted people have moved offshore in an attempt to evade law enforcement,” Australian Federal Police Detective Superintendent Matthew Ciantar said on Friday.
The man is a “well established” criminal, Det Supt Ciantar said, someone whom authorities had been monitoring for several years.
More arrests – both in Australia and overseas – will soon be made over the attempted importation.
“(Police have been) poring over messages, connecting things, working long hours with Thai authorities to make sure that we’ve got everything squared away and that all the bits and pieces of evidence are available to us,” Det Supt Ciantar said.
“We will continue (that)… to ensure that we’ve left no stone unturned, and that certainly all the offshore leads are followed up.”
The importation is almost equal to the amount of heroin – 380kg – seized in New South Wales the two years before.
Top: Thai customs officials removing packages of heroin from cans of paint last July, top, and the large lot of the drug displayed on a table after being cleaned, Home Page. The Thai headline says, “Heroin hidden in cans of paint (being sent) from Thailand.” Photos: Daily Mail and published by Amarin TV
Read earlier reports: HK seizes heroin from Thailand disguised as noodles seasoning powder