An elderly pilot is among three men charged after allegedly plotting to make an island-hopping drug run from California to Australia carrying ice worth about $255 million.
The Australian Federal Police allege the trio intended to use a six-seater plane to ferry the massive haul of ice across the Pacific Ocean, but the scheme never got off the ground.
Plans to fly the small plane from the west coast of the United States to a regional Victorian air field was “unique”, federal police Superintendent Krissy Barrett said.
“Now I’m not a good flyer at the best of times but that’s certainly not a plane I would have wanted to be on,” she added.
The 255-kilogram quantity of ice was discovered by the US Drug Enforcement Administration in a storage facility in Santa Rosa in northern California on June 15.
The drugs were to be hidden in the plane, Superintendent Barrett said.
“We’ll allege there was a sophisticated concealment plan for the drugs … which involved the removal of passenger seats on board the aircraft.”
A 72-year-old Melbourne man who is a qualified pilot was arrested at Melbourne Airport on July 5.
Police allege he planned to fly to the US, before piloting the light aircraft back to Australia.
A 52-year-old man from Zetland in Sydney was stopped at Sydney Airport on Friday after $2.4 million in cash was seized at Mildura, in regional Victoria, in a discovery police have linked to the alleged trafficking plans.
A 58-year-old man from Maribyrnong in Melbourne connected to the haul was arrested in Melbourne’s west on Wednesday.
The trio were charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of methamphetamine. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The NSW man is due to face court on Friday, while the others have already appeared before a magistrate.
The 72-year-old and the 58-year-old were also charged with money laundering offences in relation to the purchase of the light aircraft.
This offence carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.
The 52-year-old was also charged with a money laundering offence in relation to the purchase of the aircraft.
This offence carries a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment.
DEA Resident in Charge Sydney Office, Eric Baldus, said the administration operated in the knowledge that today’s most effective criminal syndicates were sophisticated, well organised and transnational.
“As such, our strong partnerships with the AFP, and others within the international law enforcement community, are vital to our unified efforts in combating the world’s most dangerous and prolific narcotics traffickers,” he said.