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Friday, March 31, 2023

Arrests Made in Connection With Major U.K. – Australia Cocaine Trafficking Investigation

Three people have been arrested by the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) as part of a major international investigation into the exportation of cocaine from the U.K. to Australia.

A woman aged 56 and a man aged 32 were detained by NCA officers at an address in Hanwell, west London on June 21. Meanwhile at the same time a 31-year-old woman was arrested at a location in Hounslow. All three were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to export class A drugs, fraud and breaches of the Aviation Security Act.

At the address in Hanwell, gold bullion thought to be worth in excess of £250,000 was also seized, along with keys to a safety deposit box containing £60,000 in cash.

The trio were questioned and released under investigation the next day.

The arrests followed a seizure of around 500 kilos of cocaine at Sydney Airport on May 15. Australian Border Force officers found the drugs concealed in a consignment described as ‘lift and tailgate parts’ which had been shipped from Heathrow using a U.K. freight agent. They estimate the drugs would have had a potential street value of around £84 million. Organized crime detectives with the New South Wales Police Force subsequently arrested three people in connection with their investigation into the importation on May 18.

NCA investigators have been able to identify a number of other similar shipments made from the U.K. to Australia using a similar method. These are now under investigation.

NCA Branch Commander Andy Noyes said: “Our investigation is looking at a sophisticated network of criminals able to smuggle large quantities of class A drugs across the globe via air freight. Some of those involved appeared to have insider knowledge of freight systems which they exploited.”

In a further NCA investigation, five British men have been arrested after a tonne of cocaine was discovered on a yacht sailing from the Caribbean to Europe.

Three crew members – aged 46, 70 and 29 – were arrested when their vessel SY Windwhisper was interdicted in the mid-Atlantic by the Spanish Customs Service on June 13 2021, as part of a joint investigation between the NCA and the Spanish National Police. Two other men linked to the vessel – aged 38 and 41 – were also arrested by Spanish officers in the Costa del Sol. All five have been remanded in custody on drug trafficking offenses.

The arrests are linked to an ongoing investigation into international drug trafficking that has so far resulted in the arrest of a number of individuals in Spain, and the seizure of 1.6 tonnes of hashish, 45,000 Euros and four sailing vessels.

The British head of the organized crime group (OCG) – a former Royal Navy officer living in Southern Spain – was among those previously arrested. Known to law enforcement agencies for his links to OCGs in the U.K. and Ukraine, officers believe he trained the crew and ran several companies engaged in buying, selling and renting sailing vessels that were subsequently used to transport drugs.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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