More than 4000 kilometres from home and under the cover of a still Western n night, the three New South Welshman were just metres from reversing off a lonely timber wharf when it happened. Heavily armed Tactical Response Group officers swarmed the men and their large hire van.
Thrown randomly inside were 59 packages adorned with Chinese writing, which authorities allege is the largest single haul of methamphetamine seized in – more than 1.2 tonnes with an estimated street value of $1.04 billion and the equivalent of 13 million separate hits of the drug they say has become the scourge of the country.
Three of the eight men arrested in the methamphetamine bust in Geraldton in Western . Photo: Supplied
As the three men are placed in handcuffs, more officers rush across the 50-metre long wharf at the Port of Geraldton and board the ocean-going vessel Valkoista, docked at the end of the jetty. On board were three more men – including two from South and one from the NSW Central Coast – as well as one more 20 kilogram package of ice.
After six months of investigation and surveillance, the bust happened in a matter seconds at 4am on Thursday.
Police alleged the Valkoista docked into Geraldton, about 400km north of Perth, about 2am after it had returned from a rendezvous with a mothership off the Western n coast.
Although authorities stayed tight-lipped yesterday about the exact workings of the alleged n-based criminal network, they confirmed the belief the drugs were destined to be transported to the eastern states.
A record 1.2 tonnes of methamphetamine was seized. Photo: Supplied
Search warrants have since been carried out at homes in Sydney, the Central Coast and Adelaide.
Two men from South , Stephen John Baxter and Sean Michael Dolman, both aged 37, were arrested at a hotel in Hillarys, north of Perth, on Thursday as part of the operation. They appeared in Perth Magistrates Court yesterday.
It will be alleged they too were involved in the drug importation.
Those two men, along with the Valkoista crew, have been charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug. The three men in the van – southern Sydney man Serupepeli Anthony Rasaubale, 33, and Waseem Sliwa Hermiz, 38, and 52-year-old Khalid Elia Keana from NSW – have been charged with possessing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug reasonably suspected of having been unlawfully imported.
Police also boarded Valkoista where they allegedly found another bag of meth and arrested 45-year-old NSW Central Coast man Joshua Joseph Smith and South n men Patrick Leandro Bouhamdan, 48, and 44-year-old Christos Cafcakis.
All of the men are due to reappear in Perth Magistrates Court on January 17. All eight are n nationals.
Police will allege in court a marine vessel, the Valkoista, arrived at the Port of Geraldton, WA, around 2am Thursday, local time. Photo: Supplied
AFP Deputy Commissioner of Operations Leanne Close said the investigation into the syndicate members had been running for six months.
“The operation for the last six months has focused on this significant organised crime group in ,” she said. “The operation has required our officers to work around the clock in recent weeks on this matter.”
Deputy Commissioner Close confirmed a mothership initially had the drugs on board, before being transferred. “We know that the drugs came through on a mothership, some miles off the n coastline,” she said.
“We are alleging the people who organised the importation, sent a group of people on a different vessel out to collect from the mothership.
“Certainly, it appears it [the drugs] were destined for the east coast.”
Deputy Commissioner Close said it will be alleged the eight men were “the organisers and facilitators” of the imported drugs.
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said: “This is the culmination of many months of very solid police work and intelligence work by this joint taskforce.”
“There is an ongoing operation clearly, but this particular element of it has resulted in what is a tremendous interruption of the supply chain,” Commissioner Dawson said.