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You are here: Home News and media CMC media releases Operation Lightning strikes at heart of major cross-border drug ring - 07.09.2012
You are here: Home News and media CMC media releases Operation Lightning strikes at heart of major cross-border drug ring - 07.09.2012
You are here: Home News and media CMC media releases Operation Lightning strikes at heart of major cross-border drug ring - 07.09.2012

Operation Lightning strikes at heart of major cross-border drug ring - 07.09.2012

A Crime and Misconduct Commission-led investigation, supported by the Queensland Police Service State Drug Investigation Unit and New South Wales Police Drug Squad, has snared an alleged line-up of major crime targets in Queensland and New South Wales, preventing $3.6 million worth of heroin and speed hitting the streets. 

Twenty people – all believed to be members or associates of Balkan crime groups operating in both states – face a total of 151 charges with further arrests expected. Seventeen of those arrested reside in Queensland.

In a joint announcement today, CMC Assistant Commissioner Crime Kathleen Florian and Acting Assistant Commissioner Gayle Hogan, who heads up the Queensland Police Service’s State Crime Operations Command, said the 12-month investigation, codenamed Operation Lightning, shut down a large-scale heroin ring, the nucleus of which was based in New South Wales with distribution points into Queensland and Victoria.

Both stressed the importance of joint operations in making the most significant dent to the organised crime landscape, adding that collaborative efforts meant the drug network was effectively attacked at its base.

‘There’s no question that Operation Lightning has left a significant dent,’ Ms Florian said, adding that the success of the joint operation also sent out a strong deterrent message to other crime groups.

‘It is estimated that this high-threat network has transported approximately 30 kilograms of heroin (with an estimated street value of $30 million) into Queensland over the past 10 years, which has been sold on the streets of the Gold Coast and Brisbane.’

Several phases of tactical arrests were undertaken during the investigation, culminating in the 24 August arrest of three New South Wales men, found to be in possession of 1.1 kilograms of heroin, and believed to be central to the distribution of heroin into Queensland.

Shortly after the arrests, the New South Wales Police Drug Squad executed four search warrants at properties in western Sydney, seizing approximately 200 grams of heroin, a large amount of cash and three block presses.

The following day (25 August), search warrants were executed in Queensland (Parkinson and Waterford West), resulting in the arrest of two people believed to be the Queensland distributors of heroin for this syndicate.

Operation Lightning also uncovered an alleged criminal association between a key target and an employee of a Queensland regional council, sparking a parallel and ongoing CMC misconduct investigation. The council employee has been charged with drug and property-related offences along with offences relating to misconduct in public office, while the alleged crime target has been charged with procuring misconduct in public office.

Ms Florian said the parallel misconduct investigation underscored the CMC’s ability to seamlessly identify and act on suspected links between organised crime and misconduct. The CMC’s Crime team first became aware of allegations that the council employee was dishonestly conducting checks on behalf of his criminal associate and passing on restricted information as well as receiving stolen property.

QPS Acting Assistant Commissioner Hogan said the success of Operation Lightning was also evident in the seizure of dangerous drugs – in total 1.82 kilograms of heroin and another 1.8 kilograms of speed [methyl amphetamine] – as well as significant quantities of precursor chemicals and laboratory equipment.

‘This casts a wide safety net in terms of what we’ve stopped being sold on the streets and the flow-on effect to the community,’ she said.

‘It’s important to keep in mind that use of all illicit drugs, notably heroin, bring particular misery to the individuals and families who are affected by it.

‘Heroin distribution also spawns the commission of secondary crimes undertaken to fund addiction, contributes to the spread of diseases which arise out of the use of needles, and places further pressure on Queensland’s health services.’

Ms Florian said the total haul of speed (1.8 kilograms) was connected to one Queensland-based target, arrested in the first execution of search warrants on the Gold Coast on 23 April.

‘It will be alleged that this target was a methyl amphetamine cook running his own labs in Queensland and hiring out his services interstate to make methyl amphetamine that has been consumed by speed users in Queensland and New South Wales,’ she said.

The 51-year-old man, from Upper Coomera, who at the time of his arrest was found in possession of 115 grams of heroin and 450 grams of speed, has been remanded in custody on a total of 33 drug-related charges (production, trafficking and supply of dangerous drugs, primarily amphetamine), including 23 counts of supplying a minor. He has additionally also been charged with two counts of burglary, two counts of extortion and procuring misconduct in public office. An existing restraining order has frozen identified assets of this target to the value of $1,185,292.

Operation Lightning follows another successful CMC investigation, Operation Storm, which closed down a separate multi-million drug distribution network in south-east Queensland, primarily trafficking in heroin. That investigation resulted in 20 people facing a total of 60 charges connected to a network that allegedly distributed 20kg of heroin, with an estimated street value of $25 million, between 2006 and 2012.

The CMC is close to finalising its latest series of strategic intelligence assessments on Queensland illicit markets, due for public release at the end of the year.

Ms Florian said the latest investigations, although both targeting high-threat heroin distribution networks, did not indicate an escalating demand for or distribution of heroin in Queensland, with the heroin market currently assessed as ‘an established but stable market which is responsible for a high level of harm to the community’.

Instead, she stressed that the two operations (Storm and Lightning) underlined the CMC’s focus on combating organised crime that caused the most harm to Queenslanders.

Of the total 17 Queensland targets arrested during Operation Lightning, eight face drug trafficking charges among other offences:

  • A 51-year-old Upper Coomera man
  • A 17-year-old Merrimac woman
  • A 39-year-old Hope Island man
  • A 25-year-old Upper Coomera woman
  • A 71-year-old Kuraby man
  • A 40-year-old Redcliffe man
  • A 27-year-old Waterford West woman
  • A 32-year-old Waterford West man

Download photos of drugs and assets seized

Read more about the CMC’s Crime function, including latest case studies.

Please note: media are invited to attend a briefing session on Operation Lightning with CMC Assistant Commissioner Crime Kathleen Florian and QPS Acting Assistant Commissioner Gayle Hogan at 10.30 am today [7 September] at the CMC’s premises:

Level 2, North Tower Green Square
515 St Pauls Terrace, Fortitude Valley

For further information, please contact CMC Media Adviser Shelley Thomas: (07) 3360 6275 / 0407 373 803.

For further information regarding the NSW Police Drug Squad, please contact State Crime Command Media on (02) 8835 8339.

Last updated: 19 November 2012

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