THE AUSTRALIAN Federal Police have charged two men over their alleged involvement in smuggling 84 kilograms of ketamine into Australia hidden inside two new commercial vans.

The men, 28 and 29, appeared in Parramatta Local Court on Sunday (2 July) charged with attempting to possess a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs.

The men were both remanded in custody to appear again at the same court on Thursday (6 July). They both could face life in prison if convicted.

Operation Meribel began in May after the AFP received intelligence from law enforcement partners about a criminal syndicate allegedly importing drugs hidden inside commercial vans.

Investigations identified a bulk carrier transporting two new vehicles suspected to conceal the drugs which arrived in Melbourne on 15 May.

Australian Border Force officers examined the vehicles on the vessel and allegedly found drugs concealed inside panels of the vehicles.

The AFP seized 79 plastic bags, allegedly containing the 84 kilograms of ketamine, and replaced them with a harmless substance before the vehicles were delivered to their intended destination in NSW.

Police estimate this amount of ketamine has a wholesale value of $3.36 million.

Once the vessel arrived in NSW, the vehicles were transported to a Sydney car dealership, where one was later collected.

Police were monitoring the vans when they allege the men stole one of them – which contained about half of the substituted drugs – removed the packages, placed them into another vehicle and then abandoned the van.

Police said they followed the men to the Sydney suburb of Yennora. On 1 July the AFP followed the vehicle allegedly carrying the substituted drugs to Smithfield, where officers arrested the two men and searched two vehicles.

AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner Kate Ferry said preventing 84 kilograms of ketamine from reaching Australian communities was a significant win in the fight against the international illicit drug trade.

“Ketamine is a dangerous sedative known to be used illicitly as a date rape drug. Its dissociative effects block sensory brain signals and can cause memory loss, feelings of being detached from one’s body and the inability to perceive dangers,” A/AC Ferry said.

“Investigations like these are a testament to the strong working relationships the AFP has with law enforcement agencies around the world and show our resolve to make a hostile environment for organised crime.”

ABF Assistant Commissioner East Erin Dale said criminal groups were attempting to import dangerous drugs with increasing levels of audacity.

“This was, put simply, an outrageous attempt to import a highly dangerous substance that could have caused untold harm if let loose on the community,” AC Dale said.

“Criminal groups continue to get bolder and more creative in their attempts to import these substances but results like this show that our sophisticated targeting and detection methods will bring them undone.

“The border is an asset that holds immeasurable strategic value for our nation and that is why the ABF works alongside our valued partners day and night to ensure criminals fail in their many attempts to undermine its integrity.”