AUSTRALIAN and British authorities have arrested five men across western Sydney and London after a joint investigation into a shipment of almost 450 kilograms of MDMA hidden in an excavator imported into Australia from the UK.

Operation Centinel North Hart began in March 2020 after a detection by the Australian Border Force of a suspect shipment.

ABF officers examined the consignment after its arrival into Brisbane from Southampton on 13 March.

An x-ray of the machine showed anomalies. 

Australian Federal Police forensics officers examined the machine and removed 226 plastic bags containing a crystalline substance.

Analysis showed the substance was MDMA.

The MDMA totalled about 448 kilograms with an estimated street value of up to $79m.

In mid-June, National Crime Agency investigators in the UK arrested two London men aged 53 and 60 and a third London man on 1 October, aged 57, who were all charged.

The excavator was ultimately delivered to a Sydney address.

AFP officers later raided premises in the western Sydney suburbs of Blacktown, Mortlake, Homebush and Greystanes, where two men were arrested and about $1.2m in cash seized.

The 33-year-old Mortlake man and a 42-year-old Greystanes man have both been charged with attempting to possess commercial quantities of border-controlled drugs.

Both men appeared in Sydney Central Local Court on 9 December 2020 and were remanded to appear in court on 3 February next year.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Southern Command Bruce Giles said organised crime was looking for new and innovative ways to import drugs into Australia.

“Organised crime groups seek to move illicit goods in bulk whenever they can and however they can,” he said.

“In this case they thought that hiding the drugs in machinery would be innocuous enough to avoid detection,” Assistant Commissioner Giles said.

“The AFP working, with its national and international partners, will not stop in our commitment to protecting the Australian community from the harm caused by these drugs and our pursuit of those who seek to profit from peddling misery.”

ABF Assistant Commissioner east and port operations Erin Dale, said ABF officers work tirelessly every day to stop drug concealments like this entering Australia.