Historic Drug Bust Found 450 Kilograms of Heroin Among Ceramic Tiles

Authorities in Australia have seized more than 450 kilograms of heroin concealed in a sea freight shipping container sent from Malaysia, making it the country’s largest-ever shipment of the illicit drug. 

The heroin, which was believed to be worth at least $140 million, was hidden among ceramic tiles that were being transported in an industrial shipping container addressed to a Melbourne business, border officers confirmed on Saturday. Officials added that the drugs were distributed among a total of 1,290 packages—weighing roughly as much as a grand piano. 

“It is common for drug traffickers to add other substances to heroin to increase the volume and therefore, make bigger profits,” acting assistant commissioner Krissy Barrett from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said. “This involves manufacturing heroin with industrial, toxic chemicals that remain in the end product.” 

AFP, along with the Australian Border Force (ABF), also announced the arrest of an unnamed Malaysian man but did not provide further details surrounding his age or identity. He has since been charged with the “importing and attempted possession of a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug”, and now faces life imprisonment under Australian law. 

“Stopping these drugs from reaching our communities has saved lives and reduced drug-associated personal and property crime, loss of productivity, and health care costs,” AFP said in a media statement.

Investigations were carried out on business and residential properties in Australia following the mammoth heroin bust. “The ABF remains alert to all attempts to illegally import dangerous narcotics into the country,” commander Chris Holzeimer said. “Syndicates might vary their concealment efforts but our officers have the technical expertise to defeat them.”

The heroin was concealed among boxes of tiles and smuggled in a shipping container from Malaysia. Photo: Courtesy of Australia Federal Police

The heroin was concealed among boxes of tiles and smuggled in a shipping container from Malaysia. Photo: Courtesy of Australia Federal Police

The unnamed trafficker from Malaysia would have faced the death penalty if he were arrested and charged in Southeast Asia, a region where many countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines enforce some of the world’s strictest anti-drug laws.

Watchdogs and groups like Amnesty International have noted in annual reports, the region’s notoriety in executing convicted drug traffickers and rights abuses that have taken place. 

With regards to the heroin bust in Australia, observers noted the packaging of the drugs and identified it as a popular brand “associated” with Myanmar and Laos, part of Southeast Asia’s lawless Golden Triangle, where the narcotics trade has thrived during the ongoing pandemic. 

“The volume of methamphetamine and other drugs being trafficked from the Golden Triangle directly or through Laos to Thailand across the Mekong River the past two years is up several hundred percent,” remarked Jeremy Douglas from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in a report published in September

The group also noted that enforcement and securities agencies from Thailand were “overwhelmed” by the increasing volumes of methamphetamine and other hard drugs being trafficked downstream on the Mekong River. 

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