Arrest made after massive amount of cocaine mysteriously washes up on Australian beaches

An alleged drug trafficker has been charged after being linked to bricks of cocaine that mysteriously washed up on Australian beaches in 2023 and early 2024. 

The unnamed 36-year-old man is from Brisbane, Australia, officials said in a news release on Thursday. The suspect is alleged to be the head of a domestic crime network who directed the collection and distribution of multiple large imports of cocaine and other illicit drugs. According to the Australian Federal Police, the man imported more than two tons of cocaine into the country in the past year. The drugs are estimated to have a street value of $617.5 million. 

The man also allegedly participated in a “failed plot” to import nearly one ton of cocaine into the country. The attempt failed, officials said, resulting in packages of cocaine bricks washing up on Australia’s coast for several months in late 2023 and early 2024. About a third of that cocaine has since been seized by authorities. 

“There was understandably community concern when cocaine washed up on beaches – beaches where our children play, swim and eat,” said Australian Federal Police superintendent Adrian Telfer in a statement. “The AFP and our partners dedicated a significant amount of resources to ensure we have kept the public safe and brought those allegedly responsible before the courts.”

Cocaine bricks recovered from an Australian beach.

Australian Federal Police

The man was arrested on Wednesday after a “major joint investigation” by multiple Australian agencies, including the Queensland Joint Organised Crime Taskforce and the Australian Federal Police. The investigation, called Operation Groot, began in early 2023, officials said. 

More arrests are possible during the course of the investigation, officials said, and officers from the Queensland Joint Organised Crime Taskforce are continuing to execute search warrants in the Brisbane and Hervey Bay areas of Australia. 

The suspect, who made his first court appearance on Thursday, faces seven charges related to the “importation of commercial quantities of drugs and dealing in proceeds of crime,” officials said, and faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. He also faces 12 charges related to “allegedly using violence and threats to collect debts and intimidate rivals by engaging criminal associates to assault, firebomb, shoot at and extort his customers,” officials said. 

The man is also suspected to have been involved in several other ventures, including a plot to import about 1,200 pounds of cocaine into Western Australia’s midwest region. The cocaine was seized by authorities after being dropped from a bulk cargo ship and brought to a coastal town. Six men have been charged in that incident already, officials said. 

The man is also suspected to have been involved in attempts to import over 22 tons of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin into Australia since late 2023, and in other plots to bring cocaine, MDMA and methamphetamine into the country between 2022 and 2024. 

Telfer said he hopes the man’s arrest serves as a warning to other “serious offenders.” 

“The AFP and our partners are driven to strike at all levels of organised crime groups, and ensure that we make it harder for other criminals to take their place,” Telfer said in the news release. “That means we will focus on the heads of syndicates and those who work with them. Every time someone buys cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine in Australia, they are funding organised crime gangs who are responsible for violence here and around the world.”

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