AustraliaFrom op shop to cop shop: Vinnies shopping spree before $1.5b drug bust
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In the hours before they allegedly collected two tonnes of freshly imported ice and ecstasy from a shipping container in western Sydney, members of the syndicate’s "unpacking crew" went on an unlikely shopping spree.
Some visited the St Vincent de Paul op shop in Crows Nest where they spent $4000 on clothes and furniture, the trial of four men has heard in the District Court.
Others dropped $1000 on goods at the Mascot Vinnies.
“I’m just cleaning Vinnies out,” one of the unpacking crew messaged another.
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According to Crown Prosecutor David Staehli, SC, the spree was “to some surprise of the ladies working at St Vincent de Paul”.
The Vinnies goods, and their receipts, were later allegedly stuffed into about 120 boxes in a 40-foot shipping container to replace the “massive” haul of illicit drugs the members of the unpacking crew thought they were collecting.
But federal police attached to Operation KOI had already removed the drugs detected by border patrol.
Details of the alleged planning - and bust - of the "very significant" importing operation estimated to be worth $1.5 billion in November 2014 were put to a jury over three days this week in Sydney’s Downing Centre District Court.
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Among them: secret Blackberry messages, CCTV cameras that mysteriously stopped working, chilli powder, coffee and liquid clothes softener found in boxes to put search dogs off the scent, personal threats to those considering pulling out, and apparent sabotage from within.
Three men accused of being part of the "unpacking crew" - Mehmet Ozgen, Solomone Komai Vukici and Jason Drollet - and a sales employee of Blacktown logistics company Chess Moving, Philip Ian Bishop - have pleaded not guilty to attempting to import and possess the border controlled drugs.
Mr Ozgen is also accused of possessing ecstasy found in a jacket in the cupboard of his Eastlakes home. They face life in prison if convicted.
The jury heard that along with three other members of the unpacking crew who are not part of the trial - Rene Arancibia, Joshua Hamlin and Akuila Bisasa - the group was involved in planning to receive and unpack a container of household goods and furniture from Germany in November 2014.
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The unpacking crew were referred to in court as the KOI 6.
The Crown detailed the origins of the importation to a mysterious figure named Genadie Sabu who arranged via email with German transport company Krumpf in October 2014 to move what he described as personal effects to Australia.
Mr Sabu wanted to use the Blacktown logistics company Chess, the court heard, and the goods were shipped from Hamburg, arriving in Australia on November 19, 2014 in a container on the Antwerp Bridge.
The weeks before its arrival saw a flurry of activity, the court heard.
About two weeks before the container arrived, the Crown alleges that a forklift driver at Chess, Deo Narayan, “received a call out of the blue” from a man called "Jason".
Counsel for the accused Jason Drollet denied in court that his client made the call.
Mr Narayan agreed to meet "Jason" at Chess where he was offered $10,000 in a blue plastic bag to move a container containing “important documents” without anyone knowing.
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Mr Narayan declined. Over coming days he would meet Jason again, eventually taking the money and leaving it in his forklift before taking it home.
Chess employees tried to secure pre-approval clearance from customs for the container as per standard practice. But it was X-rayed on arrival as part of a border inspection and suspicious goods were detected.
Over several days, inspectors and police opened the container and found 136 boxes - 76 white and 36 brown - detecting crystalline substances and tablets, later identified as two tonnes of methamphetamine and MDMA.
Inside the boxes were plastic containers in plastic wrapping, padded by German and Dutch language newspapers and sprinkled with chilli powder, coffee or scented liquid fabric softener.
Ecstasy tablets seized were stamped with a ghost figure, identified by investigators as the logo of messaging app Snapchat.
Police and border control staff frantically removed the drugs and substituted it with inert goods to send the container on its way for collection to apprehend the recipients.
The mysterious Mr Sabu, whom nobody at Chess ever met or spoke with, was informed of the arrival of his goods on November 20 and asked to send a copy of his passport and to fill in a customs declaration form. He never did.
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But with his goods sitting on the dock awaiting clearance, Mr Sabu suddenly changed his plans, emailing Chess: “I’ve been in discussions with my company and there’s a possibility I may need my things shipped to London.” He was, according to the email, keen for the goods to be left in the same container and not unpacked.
“Maybe this person sending this container was having some wavering thoughts,” Crown prosecutor Mr Staehli told the court.
On November 27, with the drugs removed and police surveillance in place, the container was cleared for pickup on bond from customs, meaning it could be moved but not collected or have its seal broken until inspection. “Things really started happening,” the Crown alleges.
That day, a CCTV camera at Chess in Blacktown suddenly stopped working. Cars belonging to the unpacking crew were detected travelling from Woolloomooloo to Blacktown and then Smithfield where one member, Rene Arancibia, had rented an industrial warehouse unit.
A “check list” was received on Ozgen’s Blackberry.
“Boys, read check list and go over with the boy next to you. Grinder, bolt cutters, 40k in a bag to Deo.”
It signed off: “Relax, we are almost there. Noone knows but us.”
But things went wrong after the container was delivered to Chess at Blacktown at 9pm.
Mr Narayan, the forklift driver in the Chess compound who accepted the money from Jason to move a container, arrived and took it off the truck - but he didn’t put it on the ground.
Rather he placed it on top of another container out of reach. He jammed the doors against another container so it couldn’t be opened. Mr Narayan went home.
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Messages began flying as the problem became apparent, the Crown alleged.
At 10.17pm, Mr Ozgen's Blackberry received a message: “Just sit tight, bit of a f--- up on our end”.
Police had obtained the password to Mr Ozgen’s Blackberry, alleging it was used to arrange the drug collection.
The next night the container was made accessible. Mr Narayan, who has since agreed to help police in return for immunity, later said Mr Bishop suggested the pair should ask for more money, some $50,000, because “these guys are desperate”. Counsel for Mr Bishop disputes this.
Mr Narayan and Mr Bishop claimed their families were threatened.
Still anxious, Mr Sabu emailed Chess that he may have to go “back to Germany” and wanted his goods “left in the container”.
But shortly after 10.20pm on November 28 they were good to go.
A CCTV camera recorded Mr Bishop walking along the Chess driveway. Mr Ozgen’s Honda Accord arrived and three men got out. A Thrifty rental truck hired by Mr Vukici arrived and three more got out.
Over several hours, the boxes that the unpacking crew thought contained drugs - but actually contained the inert goods substituted by the federal police - were removed from the container and put in the truck.
Shortly before 12.30am they were finished. Mr Bishop left. Mr Arancibia drove the Thrifty truck with the boxes to his Smithfield warehouse unit. The others followed.
The Crown alleges the unpacking crew began opening the packages in the unit and repacking them with Vinnies clothes. Police were watching.
At 3.11am on Saturday, November 29, they swooped on the Smithfield unit arresting the six men from the unpacking crew. Mr Bishop was arrested at a later date.
Police found phones, including one with Mr Ozgen’s DNA, keys, and a headlamp with Mr Vukici’s DNA. They also found boxes stuffed with clothes from Vinnies, complete with receipts from Crows Nest and Mascot.
Police would hold a media conference on the Saturday touting the operation's success.
The trial before Justice John Pickering continues.
Ice found in stereo speakers in Melbourne is 'largest meth bust we've ever seen', AFP says.
More than $1 billion worth of ice has been found hidden inside stereo speakers in Melbourne in the largest ever seizure of the drug in Australia, authorities say. Australian Border Force (ABF) officials found the drugs in a sea cargo consignment that arrived in Melbourne from Bangkok. "An x-ray revealed anomalies within the speakers and when they were deconstructed, ABF officers found vacuum-sealed packages containing the drugs," an Australian Federal Police (AFP) statement said. require(["inlineoutstreamAd", "c.
Vinnies shopping spree before $1.5b drug bust
Vinnies shopping spree before $1.5b drug bust In the hours before they allegedly collected two tonnes of drugs from a shipping container, members of the ...
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