THREE people have been charged in relation to a shipment of ketamine imported into Australia hidden in sea cargo sent from Spain.

Eighty kilograms of the drug was found inside tubs of liquid cement shipped to Victoria. The haul was part of what authorities claim is the largest seizure of ketamine in Australia.

An investigation – codenamed Operation Woodgate – began in late May after the Spanish Guardia Civil alerted Australian Federal Police officers in London to a suspicious consignment sent by sea.

The consignment, containing 360 buckets of liquid cement/micro cement arrived in Melbourne on 26 June 2023.

AFP crime scene and forensic teams examined the shipment and allegedly identified about 80 kilograms of ketamine within plastic tubes, concealed in some 40 buckets of liquid micro cement.

AFP officers conducted a controlled delivery of the consignment to a property in Merrimu, near Bacchus Marsh on Tuesday 11 July.

They arrested three members of an alleged criminal syndicate based in Victoria on 11 July in Lara, near Geelong.

An Altona man, 37, and a Sunshine North man, 33, are accused of co-ordinating and facilitating a 80-kilogram ketamine import.

A third man from Hoppers Crossing, 32, is accused of attempting to take possession of the illicit drugs.

Police believe the Sunshine North man collected the ketamine and transported it to a large rural property in Lara where the two other men moved and unpacked the consignment, pouring out the liquid concrete to locate the illicit drugs.

The AFP, with assistance from Victoria Police arrested the group and executed a search warrant at the Lara property, seizing multiple opened buckets of cement and other material, mobile phones and additional evidence relating to the importation.

Police also located a further 80 kilograms of suspected ketamine buried in the ground at the Lara address.

The operational activity continued throughout the night on 11 and 12 July 2023 at a home in Altona, along with two commercial storage facilities in Yarraville and Williamstown in Melbourne’s west.

The AFP seized two high powered gel blasters, about 25 kilograms of suspected MDMA and around 14 kilograms of suspected ketamine, along with an estimated $210,000 in cash.

The AFP seized a total of 174 kilograms of ketamine as part of the investigation, with an estimated wholesale value of $6.9 million.

AFP Detective Superintendent transnational serious and organised crime Anthony Hall said the seizure prevented significant harm to the community.

“Operation Woodgate originated from intelligence shared by the Spanish Guardia Civil with AFP International Command via AFP London Post,” he said.

“This highlights the strength in our agency’s international law enforcement partnerships and is one example of our commitment to aggressively creating a hostile environment for transnational serious and organised crime syndicates to operate, no matter where it is in the world.”

Detective Superintendent Hall said the arrest of the alleged syndicate was a warning to transnational serious organised crime groups attempting to import drugs into Australia.

“The AFP is aware of your evolving methods and the arrest of these three men is yet another example that together with our vast network of partners, the AFP is aggressively attacking and defeating your illicit operations,” he said.

“We are committed to working with our state, Commonwealth and international law enforcement partners to continue to target, identify and dismantle your criminal operations – as we have done here today.”

The three men were due to face the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 12 July.

The AFP said investigations are ongoing and further arrests are possible.