ICE assists in seizure of $248 million worth of cocaine hidden in banana pulp

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Canberra provided the Australian Border Force (ABF) with information that resulted in the seizure of 552 kilograms of cocaine worth an estimated $248 million. The operation leading to the seizure began in September 2020 following information from HSI on a suspected shipment containing drugs destined for Australia.

HSI Canberra provided Australian authorities with details on the possibility of narcotics smuggled into Australia concealed as bananas from Brazil. The container was identified and inspected by the ABF on Sept. 21 and held for further investigation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP). ABF officers identified anomalies within the approximately 275 boxes in the shipment that contained banana pulp, and upon closer examination, ultimately discovered cocaine hidden within the banana pulp bags.

In the two weeks following the detection, HSI Canberra, the AFP, the ABF, and the New South Wales Police Force monitored the narcotics and conducted additional investigative steps in furtherance of the case. The joint investigation led to the execution of search warrants Oct. 16, when officers seized mobile phones, a laptop, a case of green stones suspected to be emeralds, and five one-kilogram silver ingots. The investigation also resulted in the arrest of a 68-year-old man from north Sydney.

The investigation leading to these enforcement actions was worked jointly between HSI, the AFP, and the ABF, with support from HSI Brasilia and the National Targeting Center – Investigations.

AFP also arrested a 43-year-old Carlingford woman for her alleged involvement in the importation of approximately 117 kilograms of methamphetamine hidden in a shipment of latex gloves. The information leading to this arrest was developed in July 2020, when HSI special agents and Border Enforcement Security Task Force officers in Los Angeles inspected a shipping container of latex gloves and concrete besser blocks bound for Sydney. During the search, agents and officers identified 12 cardboard boxes with 47 individually wrapped clear plastic bags of a crystalline substance that was determined to be 117 kilograms of methamphetamine. The methamphetamine was seized in the United States by HSI Los Angeles. The shipment continued its scheduled route to Sydney, where Australian authorities awaited its arrival, and subsequently launched the operation leading to the arrest. This was an HSI-led investigation with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and AFP.

The HSI International Operations Division is the Department of Homeland Security’s largest investigative presence overseas. Division personnel serve as liaisons to governments and law enforcement agencies across the globe and work side-by-side with foreign law enforcement on HSI investigations. HSI is the principal investigative arm of DHS and a vital U.S. asset in combatting transnational crime and threats.