TWO MEN were due to face court in Sydney today (10 July) over their alleged involvement in a transnational drug syndicate that used refrigerated shipping containers to import drugs.

Operation Drake began in December 2022 after the Australian Federal Police received intelligence regarding a criminal syndicate that was importing cocaine inside reefer units.

A joint release from the AFP, ABF, and NSWPF Organised Crime Squad details collaborations that led to several drug importations being seized and suspects being identified.

A 39-year-old man from New South Wales was identified as the suspected facilitator, attempting to import a total of 241 kilograms of cocaine and ketamine.

Authorities estimate the total value of the illicit consignments to be worth more than $75 million and confirmed that at least one of the consignments originated from South America.

The AFP revealed that four illegal importations were orchestrated by the individual between 2022 and 2024, each concealed onboard vessels, inside shipping containers or vehicles.

A planned importation of 50 kilograms of cocaine concealed in a reefer unit was seized by the New Zealand Customs Service in April 2023, following advice from the AFP.

Following that, ABF officers located another 50 kilograms of cocaine hidden inside a shipment of plastic furniture in October that year.

A third importation, 111 kilograms of cocaine concealed inside a container, was intercepted by the ABF at Port of Melbourne.

A fourth importation attempt of 30 kilograms of ketamine followed in March 2024, concealed inside three new vehicles being transported on a bulk carrier.

Authorities organised a controlled set up, baiting and arresting a 23-year-old who was engaged to collect the fourth consignment, with police simultaneously raiding the 39-year-old suspected facilitator’s house.

A quantity of money and mobile devices inside the man’s apartment were seized by the AFP.

The 39-year-old man was charged with four counts of attempt to import a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, while the 23-year-old, also from NSW, was charged with one count of attempt to possess a commercial quantity of unlawfully imported border-controlled drug.

Their offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

“Investigations like these show the resolve of our people in making Australia a hostile environment for organised crime,” AFP commander Kate Ferry said.