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Australian police make record meth seizure

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
February 28, 2013 -- Updated 1612 GMT (0012 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Authorities seize more than half a ton of methamphetamine in Sydney
  • Police arrest three men, including a Singaporean and a Hong Kong citizen
  • "Make no mistake, this is a hideous, insidious drug," a police official says

(CNN) -- It all started with a simple phone call.

But the result, Australian police say, is by far their largest seizure of methamphetamine -- as much as $450 million (438 million Australian dollars) worth of the destructive drug, shipped from southern China and caught in Sydney.

Police have arrested three men in the operation -- an Australian, a Singaporean and a Hong Kong citizen -- and say they believe the bust has thrown a major international crime syndicate into disarray. More arrests could follow, they add.

The complex operation involved multiple law enforcement agencies and months of monitoring shipments coming into Sydney. But the key to the whole process was a call five months ago from a member of the public in New South Wales to the state's Asian Crime Squad, police said.

"That one phone call was the one thread that allowed us to pull and unravel a syndicate that will be stopped forever," New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said at a news conference Thursday.

Australian authorities found the drugs in Sydney last week, hidden among bags of chemicals for cleaning products in a container from the southern Chinese trading hub of Shenzhen, according to police.

A big haul of 'ice'

In total, authorities seized 585 kilograms (more than half a ton) of methamphetamine, also known as ice. That is almost twice as big as their previous record haul of the drug, which took place in July.

After confiscating the drugs, police replaced them with an "inert substance," and delivered them to a warehouse in Sydney, said Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus.

Drug lab

According to Negus, the three suspects arrived at the warehouse Wednesday, removed what they thought were the drugs and were then arrested.

They have been charged with multiple offenses -- including attempting to possess a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug -- for which the maximum penalty is life in prison and a fine of 1.275 million Australian dollars.

Police say they also found a clandestine drug manufacturing laboratory during the operation.

Officials described the bust as an important victory in the fight against the thriving trade of methamphetamine in Australia.

"Make no mistake, this is a hideous, insidious drug," Scipione said.

"It's the one drug that we know is so popular across Australia that we need to continue to do all we can to take it out of circulation," he added.

In 2012: Australian police seize $526 million worth of meth and heroin

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