A Sydney man is facing life in prison after federal police intercepted cocaine worth $248m concealed in frozen fruit products from Brazil.
AFP and Border Force officers seized 552kg of the drug hidden in pallets of banana pulp and branded with koala pictures in Sydney on Friday.
They also arrested a 68-year-old man at Forestville, in the city’s north-west, following a tip-off from US authorities about the shipment, which arrived in Australia on 21 September.
Police allege Mark De Hesselle collected 139 boxes of the pulp and searched through them to remove the drugs.
He has been charged with attempting to import a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs and possessing a commercial quantity of unlawfully imported border-controlled drugs.
Both offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
AFP detective superintendent Geoffrey Turner said Covid-19 border restrictions had not prevented criminal groups trying a range of methods to bring illicit drugs into Australia.
“Organised crime groups and their associates are taking bigger risks and looking to move more illicit goods in bulk as a result of global lockdowns,” he said.
“They think choosing every day items such as fruit would be innocuous enough to thwart law enforcement detection.”
Turner said cocaine finds its way to Australia vie a “chain of violence and exploitation”.
“Every time you use it only fuels this destruction and lines the pockets of organised crime,” he said.
De Hesselle appeared before Sydney central local court on Friday and has been remanded in custody. He will next face court on 16 December.
A separate drug investigation has meanwhile resulted in the seizure of 117kg of methamphetamine hidden in a shipment of latex gloves and the arrest of a 43-year-old Sydney woman.
The consignment was also seized by US authorities before being allowed to continue its scheduled route, with Australian authorities awaiting its arrival in Sydney.
AFP and Border Force officers conducted a controlled delivery of the shipment to a business address in Rydalmere before conducting a search and arresting the Carlingford woman when she arrived to collect the drugs.
She was charged with one count of attempting to import and one of attempting to possess a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs.
She appeared before Sydney central local court on Friday and was refused bail to reappear on 19 October.