CASH HAUL: The roughly $3.5 million in cash police allegedly unearthed from co-ordinated raids in Bundaberg, Sydney and the Gold Coast.
CASH HAUL: The roughly $3.5 million in cash police allegedly unearthed from co-ordinated raids in Bundaberg, Sydney and the Gold Coast. Australian Federal Police

How a sleepy port became a drug target

THE quiet of the Port of Bundaberg, coupled with the annual Port 2 Port Rally, may have seemed the perfect cover to smuggle in 300kg of cocaine.

But unknown to the four Spanish nationals accused of importing the drugs, two of the alleged international drug syndicate members had been under surveillance by Australian Federal Police since February.

The wait was worth it for the Australian Federal Police (AFP), who seized the huge haul of cocaine on Friday night in two cars at the turtle roundabout, and on the yacht Friday Freedom moored at the Port of Bundaberg Marina, in a joint operation with Customs and Bundaberg police officers.

The haul, believed to have originated in Columbia, is said to have an estimated street value of $120 million and is the fifth largest cocaine bust in the country.

AFP national manager of serious crime and organised crime Assistant Commissioner Kevin Zuccato said suspicion was first aroused in February, when large amounts of cash were being laundered and sent overseas from Sydney and the Gold Coast.

Two men from both cities were placed under surveillance.

Two months later, the Port of Bundaberg was flagged as a likely point of entry for the drugs and the Port 2 Port Rally a likely cover.

Asst Commissioner Zuccato said in September, Customs and Border Protection identified the yacht as having likely links to the crime syndicate when it was in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

The yacht, crewed by two of the accused, and the Gold Coast and Sydney connections were monitored while the boat made its way to Bundaberg.

On Thursday, the 39-year-old Sydney man, believed to have been the ringleader, travelled to the Gold Coast.

He and the other syndicate member then travelled to Bundaberg on Friday, allegedly to meet the Friday Freedom to exchange the drugs.

Asst Commissioner Zuccato said police would allege that once the decision had been made to move the drugs from the boat, the couple had used tools to remove the narcotics from their hiding place in the boat's hull.

The drugs, wrapped in tape and black plastic for waterproofing, were then allegedly packed into suitcases and two were given to the pair from the Gold Coast and Sydney.

Asst Commissioner Zuccato said the drugs in the suitcases weighed about 45kg each and a suitcase was placed in each car.

About 10.30 on Friday night, after boarding the yacht, police caught up with two alleged syndicate members in the cars.

Co-ordinated raids on addresses in Bondi and Surfers Paradise led to the collective discovery about $3.5 million, but AFP officers are still counting it.

Queensland Police state crime operations command Superintendent Michael Condon said there was no evidence to suggest the drugs were destined for this month's Schoolies festival.

"Obviously a seizure of this nature will always put pressure on the criminal elements that are involved in the distribution of drugs throughout the community," he said.

"At this stage it is unknown where the drugs were destined, so to say it was destined for the party areas is probably speculation more than anything."


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