Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Operation Sunrise – Six members of international drug syndicate sentenced

Year: 
2020-2021
Category: 
Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism
Location: 
Victoria

Date of Judgment: 19 November 2020

Court: County Court of Victoria (Judge Cahill)

Partner Agency: Victorian Joint Organised Crime Task Force (Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police, Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal and Intelligence Commission and Department of Home Affairs).

Synopsis:  

Operation Sunrise targeted a transnational syndicate involved in importing heroin to Australia and trafficking heroin in Melbourne. The investigation also uncovered trafficking of methamphetamine in Melbourne. Overseas members of the syndicate were primarily based in Malaysia, with some also based in Vietnam.

The syndicate recruited airline cabin crew members, who were able to travel into Australia frequently as part of their employment, to bring the heroin into Australia from Malaysia. Due to the frequency of the couriers’ entry into Australia heroin was able to be imported on almost a weekly basis.   

The Melbourne-based head of the syndicate, Michelle Tran, would order ‘tickets’ (1kg packages of heroin) on behalf of an Australian customer. She communicated with an overseas syndicate member to place an order. Upon receiving the order a syndicate member in Malaysia would arrange for a courier to transport heroin from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and transport it to an Australian city, depending where that particular courier’s flight was due to arrive. Upon arrival in Australian city the courier would pass though Australian customs and check-in into a hotel. Shortly after checking-in the courier would be met by a person would collect the heroin and transport it to a safe location.

After a lengthy investigation led by the Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police and the Australian Border Force, a number of suspects were arrested in Melbourne in January 2019. Collaboration between the prosecution team and investigators from state and federal agencies was a key aspect of the subsequent court proceedings. From September to November 2020, six people were sentenced in the County Court of Victoria, having pleaded guilty to serious drug offences.

Key points:

Operation Sunrise resulted in the dismantling of the Melbourne branch of the syndicate which had, at a time, been importing kilograms of heroin on almost a weekly basis. It led to the successful prosecution of members across all levels of the syndicate hierarchy.

In sentencing of each of the offenders, his Honour Judge Cahill highlighted the significant quantity and value of the drugs involved in the offending and the sophistication of the syndicate. The need for the sentences to deter others from committing similar offending was also emphasised, given the significant social harm caused by the importation and trafficking of drugs.

Summary of charges and sentencing:

  1. Michelle Tran was the Melbourne-based head of an international syndicate that imported heroin to Australia and then trafficked it. She pleaded guilty to:
    • Importing a commercial quantity of heroin, involving 8 occasions and at least 3,225.5g pure heroin, contrary to sections 307.1(1) and 311.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
    • Trafficking a commercial quantity of heroin involving 3 occasions and at least 1,610g pure heroin, contrary to sections 302.2(1) and 311.2(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

She was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 13 years.

 

  1. Zailee Zainal was a Malaysian cabin crew member who imported drugs from Malaysia on a number of occasions, to pass on to a Melbourne-based courier. She would then receive cash to take back to Malaysia. She pleaded guilty to:
    • Importing a commercial quantity of heroin, involving 8 occasions and at least 4,021.7g pure heroin contrary to sections 307.1(1) and 311.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

She was sentenced to nine years and six months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of four years and nine months.

 

  1. Thi Thuy Tam (Lina) Tran was a Melbourne-based courier for Michelle Tran; she would meet cabin crew members, collect imported drugs, and pass them on to purchasers. She pleaded guilty to:  
    • Trafficking a commercial quantity of heroin (business of trafficking) involving 3 occasions and at least 1,610g pure heroin contrary to sections 307.1(1) and 311.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

She was sentenced to 10 years and six months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of seven years.

 

  1. Thuy Than Thi (Phung) Tran sourced methamphetamine for another alleged syndicate member, who had arranged to on-sell it. She pleaded guilty to:
    • Trafficking a commercial quantity of methamphetamine involving a single occasion and 798.2g pure methamphetamine contrary to section 302.2(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

She was sentenced to 10 years and six months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of seven years.

 

  1. Khoi Phan transported the methemphatamine the subject of Phung Tran’s charge to the alleged syndicate member. He also possessed, on behalf of others, large quantities of drugs and cash at his home. He pleaded guilty to:
    • Trafficking a commercial quantity of methamphetamine (798.2g pure) on a single occasion.
    • Trafficking a commercial quantity of methamphetamine (4,782.3g pure), heroin (401.1g pure) and cocaine (218.6g), in that it was possessed for the purpose of sale.
    • Possessing $101,150 cash that was believed to be the proceeds of crime, contrary to section 400.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

He was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of six years.

 

  1. Beng Lee Goh travelled to Melbourne from Malaysia in January 2019 with two associates, collected a package of heroin, stored it, and provided it to a purchaser. He pleaded guilty to:
    • Trafficking a marketable quantity of heroin (798.2g pure) on a single occasion contrary to section 302.3(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of three years.  

Relevant links:

AFP Media release

Zailee Zainal sentencing remarks

Thuy Than Tam (Lina) Tran sentencing remarks

Beng Lee Goh sentencing remarks