Fake cocaine used to lure suspects in Australia's biggest-ever drugs bust

Australian police have intercepted $1bn Australian dollars worth of cocaine from entering the west of the country, in what is believed to be the nation's biggest-ever drug bust.

In a joint collaboration with the US, dubbed "Operation Beech", 2.4 tonnes of cocaine - with alleged links to a Mexican drug cartel - was seized by officers after it had travelled from South America.

The drugs had a street value of around £562.9m ($1bn Australian dollars), and were equivalent to half of Australia's estimated annual consumption, according to police.

The operation, which has been ongoing since November 2022, led to the arrest of 12 individuals.

Fake cocaine used to lure suspects

Western Australian Police seized a small vessel on 28 December, with intelligence suggesting that alleged members of the syndicate were unaware and still expecting to receive the shipment.

In a cunning plan to trap them, police substituted the cargo for fake cocaine using identical packaging.

They dropped it 40 nautical miles west of the state capital Perth, while monitoring it using drones and helicopters.

It is alleged that members of the syndicate then used two boats - Catalina and Cool Runnings - to make several attempts to find and retrieve the cargo.

On 30 December, tactical response officers arrested three men onboard Cool Runnings, with approximately 1.2 tonnes of the fake cocaine.

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A further nine arrests were made through to 13 January, including on the Great Eastern highway, roughly 373 miles (600km) east of Perth, where officers found more than £1.2m ($2m) in cash.

Police charged a 39-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman who were allegedly connected to the syndicate, according to ABC.

Deputy Commissioner Tony Longhorn said: "It's a confidence booster... every time we do these operations we're testing the limitations of our capabilities."

He added that implementing collaborative and innovative strategies in police intelligence would be key to tackling future drug activity.