Serbian police arrest 3 Australians over $400 million cocaine case

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BELGRADE: Authorities in Serbia have arrested three Australian citizens as part of a joint investigation with Australian police in connection with the second-largest seizure of cocaine in Australia’s history.

The three men were arrested in a Belgrade hotel lobby on January 18 with a bag containing 620,00 euros ($784,000) and thousands of dollars in various currencies from Asia and Europe.

Police say they are linked to the discovery of 1.28 tons of cocaine that was seized last April on a Chinese freighter that was docked in Sydney.

According to ABC news, the arrests were made during a “money handover.” A Lebanese citizen was detained and charged with having forged identity documents, police officials said.

One of the arrested men was identified as Rohan Arnold, a director of a regional livestock-selling centre in Canberra called SELX Pty Ltd – the South Eastern Livestock Exchange.

Police in Australia said the drug shipment, concealed in more than 2,500 individual blocks of prefabricated steel, had a street value of about $400 million.

The drug was concealed in pre-fabricated steel in more than 2,500 individual blocks and was the second largest cocaine seizure in Australia, Australian Federal Police and the Australian Border Force said in a statement,  ABC added.

“This was a sophisticated concealment, but thanks to our highly trained officers and world-class screening technology, we were able to locate the cocaine and ultimately disrupt a significant international drug operation,” Border Force Assistant Commissioner Tim Fitzgerald said.

The largest Australian haul of the illicit drug was 1.4 metric tons (1.5 US tonnes) found in February last year on a yacht that had allegedly smuggled it from the South Pacific. Six people were charged and face potential life prison sentences.

That larger haul was valued at over A$300 million because of its lower purity than the second-largest haul.

After the Serbian arrests, Australian police executed five search warrants in the national capital Canberra and three towns in New South Wales state. No arrests have been made in Australia, but investigations continue, police said.

Illicit drugs command relatively high prices in Australia, making it an attractive market for international drug networks despite its remoteness.