Police have seized approximately 384 kilograms of cocaine, with an estimated street value of over $140 million, stashed in an excavator that was destined for a business near the ACT border.
In a joint operation between the Australian Border Force, ACT and NSW police, officers raided a landscaping business in Bungendore — about 40 minutes east of Canberra — on Sunday, arresting two men.
Timothy Engstrom and Adam Hunter, were charged with importing a commercial quantity of a controlled drug and appeared via video link in the Queanbeyan Local Court this morning.
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The pair did not apply for bail and were remanded in custody until their next court date in September.
ACT Policing Chief Police Officer (CPO) Ray Johnson said the excavator was imported to Port Kembla from South Africa and then transferred to Port Botany for x-ray examination where the drugs were found.
"It's clear to us that this group thought bringing drugs into our district in this type of machinery would avoid police interest," he said.
"How wrong they were."
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Acting Deputy Commissioner of Operations at the Australian Border Force Sharon Huey said the concealment of the drugs in the second-hand piece of machinery was "very professional".
More than 380kg of cocaine worth $144m found inside excavator in NSW
Police took two days to extract the drugs which they say represents almost half of what was detected in the 2017-18 financial year.
"With the assistance of the Australian Federal Police we cut into the arm of the excavator where we found 384 packages of cocaine weighing each weighing around one kilogram," she said.
"This is an incredibly sophisticated concealment, from the outside the excavator looked very normal in appearance. However a very specialised and highly sophisticated method of concealment had been made on a large piece of machinery."
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Police estimated the cocaine would have resulted in just under two million street deals, most of which would have been in the ACT.
"Inevitably some of it was destined for the streets of the ACT," Officer Johnson said.
"With such a large seizure some of it was clearly destined for other parts of the NSW district, perhaps the snow given it's ski season."
CPO Johnson said after it was identified the cocaine was seized and replaced in the excavator with an inert substance.
"The excavator was delivered to the business in Bungendore that was raided," he said.
"It was delivered in the last little while."
He said the men arrested were connected to the business.