Sydney’s beach cocaine mystery allegedly solved after Australian Federal Police arrest Brisbane man

Headshot of Sarah Blake
Sarah Blake
The Nightly
3 Min Read
The alleged Australian leader of an organised crime syndicate who tried to import more than one tonne of cocaine into the country has been charged by the Australian Federal Police.
The alleged Australian leader of an organised crime syndicate who tried to import more than one tonne of cocaine into the country has been charged by the Australian Federal Police. Credit: Australian Federal Police/Australian Federal Police

Sydney’s beach cocaine mystery has allegedly been solved with the arrest of a Brisbane man over what Australian Federal Police called “a botched 900kg cocaine import that led to bricks of the drug washing up on NSW beaches”.

The arrest brings to an end four months of speculation about the batches of drugs totalling 250kg that were found on east coast beaches. Police believe a further 650kg of cocaine remains unaccounted for.

The 36-year-old man is alleged by the AFP to be the Australian leader of an international criminal syndicate who shipped “direct multiple multi-hundred kilogram and multi-tonne importations of cocaine and other illicit drugs into Australia, primarily using sea routes”.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Arrested in Brisbane’s northern suburbs on Wednesday, he was due to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Thursday to face seven charges relating to the importation of commercial quantities of drugs and dealing in proceeds of crime.

The offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, police said in a statement.

The cocaine mystery sparked international headlines and even triggered beach “bounty hunts” from some Sydneysiders after an initial package was discovered at Magenta Beach in December and another by a Bondi junior lifesaver in January.

The man was arrested as part of Operation Groot, which the AFP described as “a major joint investigation under the Queensland Joint Organised Crime Taskforce, which includes the AFP, Queensland Police Service, Australian Border Force, the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (that) began in early 2023”.

There was understandably community concern when cocaine washed up on beaches – beaches where our children play, swim and eat.

“The Aspley man was also charged with a further 12 offences for allegedly using violence and threats to collect debts and intimidate rivals by engaging criminal associates to assault, firebomb, shoot at and extort his customers,” the AFP said.

More arrests were possible and raids were continuing in Queensland.

Police said they would also allege the man was responsible for attempting to import about 560kg of cocaine into WA in August last year. Those drugs were seized and six other men have been charged over attempting to bring the drugs to Kalbarri off a bulk carrier ship.

AFP Superintendent Adrian Telfer said the man was suspected of extensive further drug offences.

“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,’’ Supt Telfer said.

“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.

The alleged Australian leader of an organised crime syndicate who tried to import more than one tonne of cocaine into the country has been charged by the Australian Federal Police, as his alleged involvement in a failed drug plot in Kalbarri is revealed.
PICTURED: Cocaine washed up on NSW beaches (supplied by NSW Police)
The cocaine bricks were found washed up in various locations along the east coast of Australia. Credit: Australian Federal Police/Australian Federal Police

“I would like to thank our partner agencies for their critical roles in this operation, and I would also like to thank the NSW Police Force for their crucial assistance after cocaine washed up on their state’s shores.

“There was understandably community concern when cocaine washed up on beaches – beaches where our children play, swim and eat. 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.”

QPS Detective Acting Superintendent Brad Phelps said the arrest was a “significant victory”.

“This result is a testament to the dedicated work by officers on the ground and the continued collaboration between partner agencies,” Det. Supt Phelps said.

“By using all available resources and intelligence we have dismantled a highly sophisticated and organised crime operation, profiting at the expense of the community.

“Stopping these drugs from hitting the streets is a significant victory, not just for law enforcement, but for all Queenslanders who could have been impacted by the wider harm these drugs can cause to families and loved ones.”

ABF Superintendent Troy Sokoloff said: “My message to drug traffickers is simple; this is not over. With industry support and alongside law enforcement partners, we will be relentless in our pursuit of you.”

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 24-05-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 24 May 202424 May 2024

REVEALED: The Nature Positive plan Tanya Plibersek did not want you to see.