AUTHORITIES have arrested a man who disappeared five years ago while he was on trial over a plot to import 186 kilograms of cocaine into Australia by sea.

The Victorian man is believed to have fled Australia in 2018 while on bail ahead of a court appearance. He was initially charged as a result of Operation Barada, an investigation into criminal syndicates attempting to import cocaine into the country.  

Police alleged the 186 kilograms of cocaine was brought to Australia on a commercial vessel and was expected to be collected at sea by a Melbourne-based syndicate for distribution across Australia.

In December 2016 the Australian Defence Force intercepted a 50-metre commercial vessel under the direction of the Australian Border Force’s Maritime Border Command after suspicious movements were noticed during a routine aerial patrol.

Maritime Border Command had been monitoring the vessel since mid-November that year, tracking it as it moved south down the west coast of Australia, across the Great Australian Bight and towards the Tasmanian coastline.

The vessel was escorted into the Port of Hobart, where the Australian Federal Police, ABF and Tasmania Police examined the vessel and seized around 186 kilograms of cocaine.

Operation Barada led to the arrests of 16 men. The 46-year-old Victorian man who disappeared has now been arrested by the Victorian Joint Organised Crime Taskforce (JOCTF) at Melbourne Airport.

Police believe the man left Australia using someone else’s passport and that he spent time in Turkey, Greece and most recently was living in Bulgaria.

He returned to Australia voluntarily. He was taken into custody on 2 September when he arrived in Melbourne on a flight from Doha.

The man faced Melbourne Magistrates Court on 4 September. The maximum penalty for attempting to import a border controlled drug is life imprisonment.

AFP Detective Superintendent Jason McArthur said the money spent on illicit drugs diverts millions of dollars from the legitimate economy.

“The seizure of the 186 kilograms of cocaine in 2017 prevented those millions of dollars of drug profit from flowing back into a transnational criminal syndicate to fund other illegal ventures,” he said.

“The AFP is also working closely with our law enforcement partners around the world to track down and bring to justice anyone involved in this harmful crime.”

Victoria Police Detective Superintendent Dave Cowan, Organised Crime Division said the outcome was a warning to those hiding offshore.

“We do not forget and we do not give up. Victoria Police will continue to work relentlessly with our partners to ensure anyone involved in this criminality is brought to justice no matter how much time has passed,” Detective Superintendent Cowan said.

The Victorian JOCTF comprises members from the AFP, Victoria Police, ABF, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and Department of Home Affairs.