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Colombian National Arrested for Cocaine Smuggling Scheme Amid Soaring Drug Demand

A Colombian national residing in Australia on a student visa appeared in Brisbane Magistrates Court on Sept. 1, facing charges related to the alleged importation of 28 kilograms of cocaine into Australia from South America.

The cocaine had an estimated street value of $7 million and could have been responsible for around 140,000 street deals.

The 33-year-old man was apprehended on June 2 by the Queensland Joint Organised Crime Task Force (QJOCTF) as part of a collaborative investigation involving the Colombian National Police, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and the Australian Federal Police’s International Network South America Office. The arrest took place near Brisbane Airport, where the suspect purportedly attempted to take possession of a suitcase containing the illicit drugs.

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The accused is facing charges for his alleged involvement in the attempted acquisition of a substantial quantity of illicitly imported border-controlled drugs. This offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Additionally, he has been charged with an offence related to his refusal to grant access to his mobile phone, which carries a maximum sentence of ten years.

Latest Cocaine Seizure Just One of Many

Cocaine remains among the most consumed and seized drugs worldwide, with several recent attempts to clandestinely import the drug to Australia being thwarted by law enforcement agencies.

In July 2023, a French man and a Swiss woman were charged over their alleged involvement in a plot to import more than 460kg of cocaine into Western Australia from Colombia.

In June 2023, there were several arrests in Western Australia as three men attempted to smuggle around 850 kilograms of cocaine into the country hidden in a bulk cargo container.

Additionally, in May 2023, a New South Wales (NSW) man and a German national with suspected links to organised crime were arrested in Western Australia for attempting to import 320 kilograms of the drug.

Cocaine Consumption in Australia

Australia is considered one of the highest per capita users of cocaine in the world, with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) estimating that 2022-23 will see cocaine consumption resume to its peak 2019-20 record level of around five and a half tonnes.

The cocaine trade in Australia is estimated to be worth around $2 billion (US$1.29 billion) annually, with consumers paying some of the world’s highest prices for the drug. The average cost of a gram of cocaine in Australia ranges from $250 to $400.

While COVID and its related disruption to international supply chains caused consumption to fall to an estimated 3.3 tonnes in 2021-22, ACIC recently stated that they “assess that a figure of 5.6 tonnes consumption per annum is a realistic estimate.” This means that if cocaine consumption returns to this level, there will be a year-on-year surge in demand of 70 percent in 2022-23.

Australia’s Insatiable Appetite for Cocaine Fuels Criminal Organisations

The demand for a piece of the multi-billion dollar cocaine market in Australia has been behind recent underworld clashes, with the most recent NSW Crime Commission cautioned about a rise in homicides and abductions linked to organised crime.

This increase is attributed to a power struggle among gangs vying for supremacy, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic causing a reduction in sea and air freight to Australia.

A recent series of firearm-related fatalities in Sydney, including the Jul. 2023 murder of alleged cocaine kingpin Alen Moradian and another individual, David Stemler, who was allegedly involved in the drug trade, are believed to be connected to this power struggle.

Colombian and Mexican drug cartels have reportedly formed alliances with biker gangs, including the Comancheros, Lone Wolf, and Hell’s Angels, to facilitate the importation and distribution of the illicit drug within Australia.

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