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Australia

Bug HK cargo of Ice drug seized by Australian police

Three men charged after Australian police seize HK$340 million worth of methamphetamine

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 3:08am

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For the second time this year, Australian police have uncovered a huge shipment of the drug Ice from Hong Kong, this time hidden in a container filled with furniture.

Authorities in Sydney said on Friday they had uncovered 70kg of methamphetamine with a street value of A$42 million (HK$340 million) after X-raying a shipping container from Hong Kong which was listed on its paperwork as holding outdoor furniture.

"X-rays and a physical unpack of the container located around 70 one-kilogram packages secreted inside the framework of five lounges [sofas]," Australian Federal Police said.

Police said the methamphetamine had an estimated street value of up to A$42 million and added to the 14 tonnes of illicit substances seized in the past year.

A 29-year-old man has been charged with importing a commercial quantity of methamphetamine over the find, and two others - a 19-year-old man and a Chinese national aged 32 - charged with attempting to possess a commercial quantity of the drug. The maximum penalty for each offence is life imprisonment and an A$825,000 fine.

The arrests come after 558 kilograms of heroin and methamphetamine was smuggled into Port Botany in July. The discovery, not linked to the latest consignment, led to the arrest of seven people in Sydney, including four from Hong Kong.

An exchange of intelligence with their counterparts in Hong Kong helped Australian police make the HK$4 billion drug haul and arrest the four men - Lee Man, 42, Tang Hin-yiu, 61, Lam Chi-man, 29, and 34-year-old Lok Hung-kai.

Federal Police said the men, who lived in a flat in Sussex Street in Sydney's central business district, played multiple roles, from facilitating the import of the drugs to unpacking and handing narcotics over to "runners".

In August, 2010, New Zealand customs broke up a drug ring that smuggled up to NZ$17 million (HK$97 million) worth of pseudoephedrine, which arrived over 12 months at Auckland International Airport in machine parts imported from Hong Kong. Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is a key component in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

However, local authorities have consistently denied that the raids and arrests are evidence that the city is becoming a drug smuggling hub.

Hong Kong's secretary for security, Lai Tung-kwok, said it was inevitable that some smugglers tried to use the city to traffic drugs but that the busts in July showed the strength of law enforcement here and the effectiveness of international co-operation.