The 21,000 highlighter pens were smuggled into Sydney from China. Picture: ABF
The 21,000 highlighter pens were smuggled into Sydney from China. Picture: ABF

Weird $120 million ice ingredient discovery

POLICE in Sydney made a sinister discovery inside a shipment of 21,000 highlighter pens smuggled into Sydney from China.

They found 300kg of ephedrine, an ingredient used to make the devastating stimulant methamphetamine or ice, packed inside the bright-coloured stationery.

Police estimated the drug precursors could have been used to make about 2.4 million hits of the drug ice, with an estimated street value of $120 million.

A man is arrested by a plain clothes detective following the discovery of drugs smuggled inside highlighters from China. Picture: ABF
A man is arrested by a plain clothes detective following the discovery of drugs smuggled inside highlighters from China. Picture: ABF

The trick was detected when Australian Border Force officers noticed "anomalies" in a stationery shipment that arrived at its Sydney Container Examination Facility in Port Botany earlier this month.

The pens were pulled apart and tests confirmed they had been filled with ephedrine - a drug which is used in a medical setting to prevent low blood pressure during spinal anaesthesia, but can be used in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine.

Some of the shipment was allowed to be delivered to premises in Sydney's inner west under the watchful eyes of Border Force officers and NSW Police detectives. One man was arrested and charged with drug importation offences.

ABF Investigations Superintendent Garry Low said while the highlighters were a unique concealment method, ABF officers find drugs and precursors in almost anything.

"We've recently invested heavily in upgrades to X-ray technology at our container examination facilities, including here in Sydney, allowing our officers to see further in to each container and detect even more sophisticated concealments," Supt Low said.

"This technology, combined with the significant skills of our investigators, and our collaboration with our state police colleagues has once again seen a large amount of precursors seized before it could be turned into millions of hits of ice.

 

CCTV shows one of the accused loading the highlighters into packets. Picture: AFP
CCTV shows one of the accused loading the highlighters into packets. Picture: AFP

 

"ABF and our partners have made a significant dent in the availability of ice over the past 12 months, with the seizure more than 2 tonnes of ephedrine at the border in NSW alone."

NSWPF Drug and Firearms Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Peter McErlain said targeting ice and precursors remains a priority for NSW Police Force and their partners.

"Ice poses a unique challenge for law enforcement, as we need to intercept the illicit importation of both finished product and precursors, such as ephedrine," Det Supt McErlain said.

"These types of seizures can have a significant impact on the availability of ice across NSW, but our work does not stop at importations - we are also targeting the supply of this poison in metropolitan, regional and rural areas, and the crude manufacture in clandestine laboratories.

"Criminal syndicates profit from the misery created by these illicit substances, so as much as anything, the community focus needs to be on reducing the demand for all illicit drugs."

News of the sting comes as NSW Police today revealed it seized 36kg of methamphetamine, more than 100 ampoules of steroids, more than $260,000 in cash, three luxury cars, an electronic control device and a cash counting machine in an unrelated operation last week.

The operation in the Hornsby area of Sydney, saw two men, aged 29 and 34, and a 29-year-old woman charged with supplying a large commercial quantity of prohibited drugs and participating in a criminal enterprise.

They were remanded in custody and will appear at Central Local Court on March 1.

 

Officers with the boxes of highlighters seized during the operation. Picture: AFB
Officers with the boxes of highlighters seized during the operation. Picture: AFB

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