Australia smashes $500 mln Hong Kong drug ring

Australian police have seized half a billion dollars' worth of crystal methamphetamine and heroin after smashing a Hong Kong-linked international drugs syndicate, they said Tuesday.

Police raided addresses in Sydney on Monday, arresting seven people after finding 306 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine -- known as 'ice' -- and 252 kilograms of heroin, worth a total of Aus$500 million (US$525 million).

Four of those detained were from Hong Kong and the other three were Australian residents, though reportedly originally from the former British territory.

It was the largest haul of ice in Australian history and the third-biggest heroin bust, and was the culmination of a protracted operation following a tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

"This was an 11-month investigation where we've had tight control over a number of people who we suspected of being involved in illicit narcotic importations," said deputy police commissioner Andrew Colvin.

"This has prevented half a billion dollars of drugs reaching Australian streets. This seizure is significant in any terms."

He added that the investigation was still ongoing and "we have high prospects of more arrests".

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said it was a major breakthrough.

"This is more heroin and more amphetamine than we often seize in an entire year," he said.

Customs officials said they pinpointed a number of people believed to be associated with the syndicate in January and from there identified two suspect cargo consignments.

The drugs were stashed in terracotta pots shipped to Australia, reportedly from Thailand, and tracked to a warehouse in inner-city Sydney, where hundreds of foil-wrapped, loaf-sized packages were uncovered.

"The actual concealment itself wasn't particularly sophisticated - terracotta pots concealed in bulk on palates within cardboard boxes and then shrink-wrapped," said Mike Pezzullo from Customs and Border Protection.

Those arrested, aged between 29 and 61, appeared in court Tuesday charged with various drug importation and distribution offences and were remanded in custody until October 17.

The maximum penalty for those found guilty is life in prison.

Colvin said the bust came hot on the heels of Australia's most successful year in terms of drugs seizures, with more than 14 tonnes of illicit substances found in the financial year ending June 30.

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