Police Bust Pacific Drug Connection in Australia

Published October 29th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

A huge heroin stockpile of around 300kg (660 pounds) has been seized by international agencies in Fiji's capital Suva, Australia's Customs Minister Amanda Vanstone said Sunday. 

"This is a truly staggering amount of illicit drugs," Vanstone said in a statement. 

The heroin would have had a street value of more than 150 million US dollars. 

Vanstone said the seizure was made in Suva on Saturday and two people had been arrested. 

She said the raid resulted from a long-term intelligence probe into the activities of transnational crime groups that had become established in a number of South Pacific island nations. 

Transnational crime included activities such as fraud, money laundering, people smuggling and narcotics trafficking across national borders. 

"In particular, the intelligence revealed some of the islands were being used as transit points for heroin trafficking to North America and Australia," Vanstone said. 

"Police believe the syndicates have attempted to use the instability in the region as an opportunity to expand their criminal networks." 

Australian Federal Police acting commissioner Mick Keelty said the heroin originated in Myanmar, where Australian intelligence officers have been stationed for the past 10 months. 

"There's little doubt in our minds that the majority of this heroin was destined for Australia," Keelty added. 

The two men charged were of Chinese background. One had been living in Hong Kong and one in China. 

Although only two arrests had been made, Keelty said he was confident the group had been dismantled. 

Fijian authorities were unaware of the syndicate until notified by Australian police. 

The syndicate was believed to have targeted the small Pacific island because of its instability following the coup attempt by George Speight earlier this year. 

Vanstone said that since July 2000 a group of Australian Federal Police had been working in Suva as part of an agreement to assist the Fiji Police Force in an operation against suspected transnational criminals. 

The initial investigation team was later expanded to include personnel from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the National Crime Authority (Australia), the New Zealand Police Service and the US Drug Enforcement Administration once the complexity of the alleged criminal activities became apparent. 

Vanstone said the seizure was expected to put an end to the activities of what is suspected to be a transnational crime syndicate. 

Investigations into the syndicate's other suspected criminal activities are continuing. 

"This is a landmark operation which places a whole new dimension on the fight against transnational criminal groups and is ringing testimony to the Howard government's fight against illicit drugs," she said. 

Like Fiji, East Timor is also vulnerable to drug traffickers and Australian Federal Police were negotiating with other agencies to establish an Interpol office in Dili, Keelty said -- SYDNEY (AFP)  

 

 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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