“This job started with just a thread of information to the NSWPF’s Drug Squad two and a half years ago”, NSW Police Commissioner Mark Jenkins told a reporter. “That thread has helped us keep more than a tonne of illegal drugs off the street”.
On Christmas day, a joint operation between the NSW Police Drug Squad, Marine Area Command and Australian Federal Police named ‘Operation Okeski’ reached its climax, with police seizing 500 kilograms of cocaine at Brooklyn on the NSW Central Coast.
Fifteen people were arrested over the next three days, including eastern suburbs businessman Darren Mohr, former Roosters Rugby League player John Tobin and fishing boss Joseph Pirrello.
The drugs were allegedly located on board an inflatable boat as it reached a dock at Brooklyn.
Police allege that a South American drug syndicate loaded the cocaine onto a ‘mother ship’ and arranged for it to be transported from Chile to waters off the NSW coast. The ship is alleged to have been met by a fishing trawler based at Sydney Fish Markets. The cocaine was allegedly loaded onto the trawler and later transferred to the inflatable boat, before it was transported to shore.
Police allege the syndicate was attempting to import another 600 kilograms of cocaine to Australia, but the shipment was intercepted by the French Navy in March off the coast of Tahiti.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Chris Sheehan described the group’s operations as “selfish” and “brazen”.
“They were determined to exploit some of the most vulnerable members in our community,” he said.
“The syndicate we have dismantled over the past couple of days was a robust, resilient and determined.”
NSW Police Investigation co-ordinator Detective Chief Inspector Jason Smith said the operation involved piecing titbits of conversations together, which may raise questions about the veracity of the evidence against some of the arrested men.
Five of the men were arrested on Christmas day. They appeared in Parramatta Bail Court on Boxing day, did not apply for bail and were formally refused. The remaining ten men were arrested on Boxing day and Tuesday. They also did not apply for bail and were formally refused.
All of the cases have been adjourned to Central Local Court in March, 2017.
As with all of drug importation cases, the DPP will take the matters over from police and serve briefs of evidence in coming months, which will contain the material upon which the prosecution relies to support the allegations against each of the arrested men.
The prosecution will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants participated in the importation of a border controlled substance, knowing it was such or being reckless to that fact.
A defendant must be acquitted if the prosecution is unable to establish involvement to the requisite standard.
Although details of the allegations against each of the men are sketchy, the case bears similarities to one which I was involved in some time ago.
In that case, over 600 kilograms of heroin were brought to waters off eastern NSW aboard a ship via Indonesia, loaded onto a speedboat and transported to shore, only to be met by authorities who had been monitoring the operation.
I represented three of the crew who were on board that ship, all of whom were acquitted because the prosecution could not prove knowledge or recklessness.
It will be interesting to monitor how the present case pans out.