A 51-year-old Hong Kong man may face life in an Australian prison after being charged yesterday in the biggest seizure of the drug Ice in that country's history.
Australian police found more than half a tonne, or 585kg, of methamphetamine, worth A$438 million (HK$3.5 billion), in a container ship that arrived in Sydney from Shenzhen, via Hong Kong. Hongkonger Cheung Tuen, 51, was formally refused bail yesterday and will appear in a Sydney court on May 8 to face charges of attempting to possess a commercial quantity of drugs.
Two other men involved, also refused bail, were a 32-year-old Singaporean and a Sydney man, 21. The maximum penalty is life in prison or a A$1.25 million fine.
The bust was the result of a six-month covert operation that began last September after a tip-off from the public, Australian police said.
"The Ice was hidden amongst one-tonne bags of chemicals which are used in cleaning products," Tony Negus, the Australian Federal Police commissioner, said. After finding the drugs last Friday, police replaced it with an inert substance then lay in wait for the suspects. They made the arrests when the three men tried to collect the drugs from a Sydney warehouse on Wednesday.
"We believe this record seizure has significantly disrupted an international drug syndicate's operation here in Australia," Negus said. "We've already been in touch with authorities in China, and a range of further inquiries are under way.
"The investigation remains ongoing and we've not ruled out further arrests, either here in Australia or overseas."
The consignment was hidden in one of four containers loaded on board the container ship at the Yimtian port in Shenzhen on February 1. The ship arrived in Hong Kong on February 3 and picked up other cargo at Kwai Chung container terminal before leaving for Australia. "No containers were unloaded from the ship during the stopover in Hong Kong. It only stayed in the city for several hours," a Hong Kong government source said.
The seizure is almost double the amount of Australia's previous record haul of 300kg, last July, also in Sydney. It was linked to a Hong Kong syndicate and included 252kg of heroin. Four Hongkongers, aged 29 to 61, were arrested in that case.
Last September, Australian authorities seized 70kg of Ice in a shipping container from Hong Kong, where the drugs were hidden inside five sofas.
Police commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung yesterday said Hong Kong police would provide assist Australian authorities with all necessary assistance in their investigations. And Australian Customs and Border Protection chief Michael Pezzullo told a local radio station it had stepped up co-operation with its Chinese counterparts. "In the last few years we've really gone beyond infrequent and episodic collaboration to … very, very regular exchanges of information and very, very much more structured collaboration," he said. "That's the way of the future."