Drug duo jailed for importing nearly 500kg of MDMA
On 9 October 2016, Australian Border Force (ABF) officers examined a container at Port Botany in Sydney and found 493.27kg of a brown crystalline substance hidden inside 20 pallets of aluminium rolls.
The substance was carefully concealed within the two middle aluminium rolls on each pallet.
Later testing would reveal the drugs were MDMA and had a total pure weight of 367.93kg.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) substituted the hidden drugs with an inert substance that contained a unique tracer material. They had to hope they had done this well enough not to raise the offenders’ suspicions and compromise their surveillance operation.
While they watched, Mr Chan organised to store the drugs at a suburban storage facility, and over a number of days, he began to access the substituted drugs.
Mr Chan cut open the aluminium rolls, removed some of the substituted drugs and packed them into 70L plastic containers. He then gave at least one of the containers to Mr Leung.
When Mr Chan and Mr Leung, who were Hong Kong nationals, were arrested they had 10 mobile phones between them, of which five were in false names. When Police later searched the defendants’ homes they found another 10 phones.
They also found nearly 50 kilos of the substituted MDMA in the boot of Mr Leung’s car, broken down and stored in 50 smaller plastic bags. Police also found a backpack containing approximately 1.3kg of ephedrine.
In a record of interview with Police, Mr Chan said he was told to rent the warehouse storage by a person in Hong Kong, and that he was paid $20,000 to remove a substance from the consignment, which he knew to be drugs.
Prosecuting sophisticated syndicate matters
A number of factors made this a sophisticated drug importation. These included its size and the professional nature of the packaging that hid the drugs in concealed cavities within certain aluminium rolls.
In drug operations like these, the interception is often the start of a more intensive investigative process. Police need to begin surveillance and obtain warrants reactively, as new information comes to light and other offenders are revealed.
In contrast, when someone tries to smuggle drugs into Australia in a suitcase or in their stomach, the drugs are already in their possession and the majority of the evidence required to prosecute the matter is already available.
Challenges for prosecutors
In cases where drugs are intercepted and substituted, police and prosecutors often need to manage large amounts of evidential material in the form of surveillance / CCTV footage / telephone intercepts and listening device product.
As part of Australia’s justice system and to ensure fairness in the process, this material must be disclosed to the defence.
Prosecutors need to thoroughly analyse the evidence to understand what it contains and whether there is any additional information that can be used in the case. The information also needs to be categorised and ordered to meet the requirements of the court.
This process can take our prosecutors a significant amount of time to complete, particularly when each piece of evidence needs to be attributed to a particular offender. The prosecution needs to be able to show how pieces of evidence relate to the accused, who often have different roles within sophisticated drug syndicates.
On 16 May 2019, Mr Leung (42) was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of eight years and six months. Mr Chan (37) was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of six years and six months. Both men had pleaded guilty.
In sentencing, Her Honour Judge Wass SC of the District Court of New South Wales described the operation as sophisticated.
She said that while both defendants had played menial roles in the importation, they were trusted underlings who knew they were to receive a substantial amount of drugs.
Commenting on the case, the CDPP’s Deputy Director responsible for Illegal Imports and Exports, Mark de Crespigny, said that “due to the devastating impact substantial drug importations such as this one can have on members of the Australian community, strong relationships with investigative agencies such as the ABF and the AFP are essential to achieving significant outcomes in court, and sending a strong message of deterrence”.
Both Mr Chan and Mr Leung were in Australia on student visas and will be deported once released from prison.
- One count each of jointly attempting to possess a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, namely 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, contrary to s307.5 with ss11.1(1) and 11.2A of the Criminal Code (Cth) (Mr Chan x 1 and Mr Leung x 1).
- One count of possessing a controlled precursor, namely ephedrine, contrary to s308.2 of the Criminal Code (Cth) (Leung x 1)—taken into account on a s16BA schedule.