Meth Sting Shows Role of LatAm Groups in Australia Drug Trade

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Five Colombians have been arrested for attempting to import 60 kilos of Mexican methamphetamine into Australia via the United States, in a case which raises questions about which Latin American groups are importing into Australia and what routes they use.

A joint operation between the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) saw the shipment intercepted on US soil, while a series of raids in Australia resulted in the five arrests, according to an ICE press release.

On 8 January, HSI agents and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers in the United States intercepted and seized two shipments containing the drugs, which had been hidden inside water filters and given a black appearance to look like charcoal. The meth had an estimated wholesale value of $12 million in Australia.

InSight Crime Analysis

As well as highlighting what appears to be a growing Latin American organized crime presence in Australia, this bust raises some significant questions about how the trade functions and who is behind it. While the presence of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel has previously been reported, the group was thought to mainly ship drugs to Australia via Central America, Europe, and the Pacific Islands. The reasons for sending the drugs via the United States remains unclear, as does the allegiance of the Colombians arrested.

Mexican criminal groups dominate both meth production and distribution. Although there have been reports of meth production shifting from Mexico into Central America, it is still groups from Mexico thought to be responsible. Whether the Colombians were working for a Mexican or a Colombian group is unknown. However, while concocting the drug in homemade labs is entirely possible, the quantity involved in this bust means the group was likely operating with links to an established criminal organization.   

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration

Australia is a highly profitable market for drug traffickers due to high retail prices, with a kilo of cocaine costing as much as $250,000 — multiple times the price in the United States and Europe and more than a hundred times the cost at production points. While ease of domestic production has made meth popular and generally cheaper than other drugs in Australia over recent years, it appears the profits on offer are still high enough to draw the attention of Latin American organized crime.

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