International police operation stops $1 billion worth of cocaine linked to Mexican cartel from reaching Australia


Police have revealed details of a covert international operation that stopped 2.4 tonnes of cocaine, worth $1 billion, from reaching Western Australia, in what is believed to be the nation’s biggest-ever drug bust.

Key points:

  • An operation between US and Australian police has resulted in the seizure of 2.4 tonnes of cocaine bound for WA 
  • Police allege the cocaine is linked to a Mexican drug cartel
  • A dozen people have been arrested 

The investigation, dubbed “Operation Beech”, has led to the arrest of 12 people with alleged links to the Mexican drug cartel.

WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the operation spanned six weeks and involved intensive surveillance and resources.

“This was an opportunity to catch the syndicate — the group of people that were capable of receiving it, landing it and then distributing it across Australia,” Commissioner Blanch said.

“The message from the WA Police Force is unchanged … we will come after you, regardless of where you live on this earth.”

The Operation 

The US Drug Enforcement Administration intercepted 2.4 tonnes of cocaine bound for WA off the South American Coast in November.  

Packages wrapped in plastic and black netting
Police dropped fake drugs into the ocean as part of the operation. (Supplied: WA Police )

Intelligence suggested the alleged drug traffickers were unaware of the seizure and the Australian arm of the syndicate was expecting to receive the shipment around December 28. 

WA Police substituted the cargo for fake cocaine using identical packaging and dropped it 40 nautical miles west of Perth while keeping an eye on it using drones and helicopters. 

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

A small boat with a "Cool Runnings" sign.
The Cool Runnings beached near Moore River. (Supplied: WA Police )

On December 30, Tactical Response Group officers arrested three men onboard the Cool Runnings with approximately 1.2 tonnes of the fake cocaine, after the boat had washed up on the beach near Moore River, 70km north of Perth.

It is alleged that others, onboard the Catalina, went looking for Cool Runnings, towing it back out to sea to transfer the fake drugs, before Cool Runnings sank.  

Aerial image of boats in the ocean
Police used drones and helicopters as part of the covert operation. (Supplied: WA Police )

The Arrests

Raids were carried out across Perth, including on the Catalina at Hillarys Boat Harbour, as well as various hotels. 

Police also stopped a vehicle on the Great Eastern Highway, near Coolgardie, where they found more than $2 million in cash.

They charged a 39-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman allegedly connected to the syndicate. 

Piles of 50 dollar notes in plastic bags displayed on a table
The cash seized from a vehicle near Coolgardie. (Supplied: WA Police )

The 12 people who have been arrested are from WA, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and United States.  

Operation Beech was a joint effort between WA Police Force Transnational Serious and Organised Crime Squad and the Sydney Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, with assistance from other state policing jurisdictions.

Officers lead a man in handcuffs into a car
Police arrested a man at Hillarys Boat Harbour.(Supplied: WA Police )

WA Deputy Commissioner Tony Longhorn said implementing collaborative and innovative strategies in police intelligence would be key to tackling future drug activity.

“It’s a confidence booster … every time we do these operations we’re testing the limitations of our capabilities,” the Deputy Commissioner said.

“The criminal syndicates are changing up the game all the time, and we have to change up ours.”

Source: ABC News