POLICE have blown open a major cocaine ring worth hundreds of millions of dollars operating in Sydney, resulting in the arrest of more than a dozen men.
The arrests, made during a series of Christmas Day raids, come after a two-and-a-half-year investigation by the NSW Police Drug Squad and Australian Federal Police.
The top-secret investigation targeted commercial fishermen who were allegedly using fishing trawlers to meet a “mother ship” which moved cocaine from Chile to Australia, The Daily Telegraph reports.
In a Sydney press conference, police confirmed the arrest of fifteen men between December 25 and 28, in what they deemed the “largest cocaine seizure we have had in Australia”.
About 500kg of cocaine was seized on Christmas night, estimated to be worth $162 million, police said.
A further 600kg of cocaine destined for Australia, estimated to be worth about $197 million, was seized in Tahiti.
The amount of cocaine seized in total has an estimated street value of about $360 million, according to police.
“This is a very significant organised crime group,” NSW Police Force Assistant Commissioner Mark Jenkins said.
“These are well-connected people. This is a significant group for the Sydney market and for Australia.”
Fifteen men allegedly responsible for the attempted importations have been charged with serious drug importation offences. The men range in age from 29 to 63 years, and have all been refused bail.
One of the 15 men targeted in the sting is former Roosters NRL star John Tobin, who was a first grader in the 1970s and ’80s, and former Bondi cafe owner Darren Mohr, The Daily Telegraph reports.
Images released by police show multiple men standing in handcuffs in the dark while on board a fishing vessel named Dalrymple, which was docked at the Brooklyn Marina on the Central Coast.
Police understand different members of the syndicate have known each other and engaged in such activities over the past two and a half years.
They said the group had two other attempted conspiracies to bring drugs into Australia, but were unsuccessful in importing any cocaine in this syndicate.
Previous reports stated the syndicate was operating from Sydney Fish Market, but police this morning confirmed the market is not under investigation.
Police would not say how they received the initial tip-off, but noted a member of the community was “concerned enough to provide us with information”.
They will allege that the entire commodity came out of South America, saying it was transferred out of the region via ship with the intention of landing in Australia.
“The tactic of using small craft has been around for a long time. It is international organised crime syndicates trying to take advantage of our 35,000km coastline in the hope that we won’t be in the area that they are in.”
Detectives attached to the lengthy operation pounced on the alleged trug traffickers on Sunday night, seizing about 500kg of cocaine from an inflatable boat as it pulled up to a boat ramp at Brooklyn, north of Sydney.
“This operation has been running for more than two and a half years and culminated over the Christmas period,” the police statement reads.
AFP Organised Crime national manager Chris Sheehan told The Daily Telegraph that every member of the syndicate had now been arrested.
“No matter how many ventures we disrupted they still kept going,” he said. “This group — the 15 we have arrested — that’s the entire syndicate from top to bottom.”
All of the men are expected to appear before Central Local Court in March but a number are likely to make bail applications in the next few weeks.
Australian Federal Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Chris Sheehan, NSW Police Force Assistant Commissioner Mark Jenkins, and Australian Border Force Acting Assistant Commissioner Tim Fitzgerald will address media in Sydney at 11am on Thursday.