The Age 06 August 2019 (Australian paper)

Australia’s growing thirst for cocaine is increasingly being met by organised crime groups supplying the drug through South Africa, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission says.

The nation’s drug users are consuming more than four tonnes of cocaine every year, the majority of which originates in Colombia, but which travels to Australia from South Africa.

Last month, police descended on the sleepy town of Bungendore in the state’s south-west to find almost 400 kilograms of the drug concealed inside an excavator.

Meanwhile, Australia’s widening demographic of cocaine users is clocking a record number of arrests for consuming the illicit substance.

In the year to 2017-18, the number of national cocaine arrests increased by almost 30 per cent, with NSW accounting for more than half.

The insights come in the 2017-18 Illicit Drug Data Report, the latest from the ACIC, which was released on Tuesday.

The ACIC revealed that a record 30.6 tonnes of illicit drugs, worth almost $5 billion, were seized nationally during the period.

According to the report’s findings, while the weight of cocaine seized nationally more than halved during the reporting period, from a record 4623 kilograms in 2016–17 to about 1970 kilograms in 2017–18, the latest recorded amount is the second highest in the past decade.

The ACIC identified a number of key embarkation points for cocaine detected during the period, including Mexico, the US, Britain, China (including Hong Kong) and Peru.

However, by weight, South Africa was found to be the top embarkation point for cocaine detected in Australia.

South Africa was the point of origin for a number of recent high profile seizures in NSW, such as the $144 million shipment seized in Bungendore.

Police allege the cocaine was shipped in a second-hand 20-tonne Caterpillar excavator and was most likely intended for markets in the Snowy Mountains, the South Coast and Canberra.

Timothy John Engstrom, 34, and Adam Phillip Hunter, 35, both of Queanbeyan, were arrested over the shipment and charged with high-level drug trafficking offences. Neither has entered a plea. The men will next appear in court on September 9.

South Africa was also the alleged embarkation point of choice for one of the country’s biggest racing identities Damian Flower, who was charged with importing 50 kilograms of cocaine from that country earlier this year.

Mr Flower was arrested by a joint strike force at his south-west Sydney home in May, after police allegedly observed him import massive quantities of cocaine over six months, alongside his co-accused Qantas baggage handler To Oto O Junior “John” Mafiti.

Less than one month earlier, a joint operation by the Australian Border Force and the NSW Organised Crime Squad arrested South African national Paul Shannon Finlayson over the alleged importation of 61 packages of cocaine, each stamped with the face of Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara.

The $34 million haul had been concealed in a delivery crate labelled as wooden furniture, which police allege Mr Finlayson had flown specially to Sydney to receive.

Following Mr Finlayson’s arrest, police executed search warrants at three sites in Campbelltown, including one residential address, where they seized “further evidence of a criminal group importing drugs into Australia from South Africa”.

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