9 Aug 2008

Australian police seize 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy

6:11 pm on 9 August 2008

Australian police say they have made the world's biggest seizure of ecstasy - 4.4 tonnes worth $A440 million - and have arrested more than 20 people in raids in four states on Friday.

Federal police officers detained the 21 people during early morning raids in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia.

The 15 million pills were imported from Italy to Melbourne in June 2007, and were found packed in more than 3,000 tomato tins in a shipping container. They had a street value of $A440 million ($NZ560 million).

The drugs were substituted for an inert substance and the shipping container was monitored.

Australian Police Commissioner Mick Keelty says the busted syndicate was a principal supplier of illicit drugs to Australia.

On 24 July this year, Customs and federal police intercepted another shipping container in Melbourne, which was found to contain 150 kilograms of cocaine.

Police say the investigation also identified a money-laundering operation worth more than $A49 million.

Haul won't affect drug use - experts

Associate Professor John Fitzgerald from the University of Melbourne's School of Population Health told ABC Radio's AM programme he doubts the huge seizure will have much of an impact on supply.

"One of the issues around looking at the impact of seizures is that we're not quite sure what impact they have because the issue of stockpiling," he said.

"We know with a range of other substances, like heroin and amphetamines, that there's a high level of stockpiling that goes on, so when there is a seizure it doesn't necessarily translate to reduced access to the drug on the street."

Professor Fitzgerald says that previous seizures have failed to result in significant increases in price or drops in supply.

"Our sense is that yes, this is a big seizure, we need to watch it very carefully in terms of the impact, but our past history would tell us that the impact at the street level will be minimal if anything," he said.

Adelaide emergency doctor David Caldicott, who has a special interest in illegal drugs, is surprised by the amount of the seizure but he also doubts it will have much of an impact on demand and supply.

"People would not be sending this quantity of product to Australia without a realistic expectation that they stand to be able to move all of this product," he said.

"So what you're looking at is a truly phenomenal demand in Australia for these sorts of drugs in the modern era. As long as that demand exists, it doesn't matter what interdiction does."