Crashed plane packed with cocaine was bound for Australia, police say

Elias Hubbard
August 2, 2020

A light aircraft overloaded with cocaine crashed on take-off on its way to Australia, police said on Saturday, exposing a Melbourne-based crime syndicate and leading to the arrest of five men with alleged links to the Italian mafia.

"The aircraft flew at about 3000 feet from Mareeba to PNG, in an effort to avoid radar detection", Australian Federal Police said in a statement.

It allegedly had 500 kilograms of drugs on board - about the same weight as a horse - when it tried to take off from a remote airstrip near Port Moresby.

Police allege the men travelled from Sydney and Melbourne to Atherton, southwest of Cairns, between July 19 and 25, before facilitating the flight to collect the drugs. The pilot surrendered himself to police a couple of days after the accident and was arrested, too. He was arrested and has been charged with an immigration offence.

The five men arrested in Australia have been charged with conspiring to import the cocaine from PNG into Australia.

The AFP, working with Queensland and Victoria Police, Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, and the national police force, has charged five men linked to the incident, who could all face life imprisonment, according to the statement. They include four from Victoria aged 31, 33 and 61, and a 36-year-old from Sydney.

As part of the AFP investigation, Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce seized more than $3.5million worth of fiances and assets believed to be under the control of a syndicate member.

The country's prime minister, James Marape, said at the time he suspected it was used for drug trafficking and asked Australian authorities to help uncover the mystery.

The multi-agency investigation took almost two years, according to AFP Deputy Commissioner for investigations Ian McCartney.

"These arrests prove no matter how sophisticated or opportunistic organised crime's attempts are, or the methods they use, law enforcement is keeping pace and causing maximum damage to these criminal ventures", Dep. Comm. McCartney said.

AFP Deputy Commissioner Investigations Ian McCartney said it's the end of a two-year multi-agency drugs operation.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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