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How They Nabbed An International Crime Syndicate Operating In Aussie Skies

Eight members of an alleged Vietnamese international crime syndicate based in Melbourne responsible for smuggling $20 million worth of illicit drugs into Australia have been arrested.

At least one of the people arrested was cabin crew, Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh confirmed on Wednesday.

"During the investigation, police identified that the drugs were being brought into Australia via an international commercial airline, with the cabin crew used as the drug couriers," Walsh said.

"These couriers were entering Australia predominantly through Melbourne and Sydney."

Detectives believe the crime syndicate is responsible for importing and trafficking six kilograms of high-grade heroin worth about $14.5 million and eight kilograms of methamphetamine worth $6.4 million from Malaysia.

“The amount of heroin alone involved in this investigation amounts to almost fifty thousand hits in real terms," Walsh said.

Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh praised the efforts of the joint organised crime task force. Photo: 10 daily.

It is believed the crime syndicate has been operating for at least five years.

Police would not go into operational details but confirmed the ringleaders are believed to be local.

A 38-year-old woman was arrested in Tullamarine on January 7 and charged with one count of importing a marketable quantity of border control drugs, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

The following day, seven more people were arrested and charged, including two people -- a 47-year-old woman in Abbotsford and a 48-year-old man in Southbank -- charged with the more serious charge of trafficking a commercial quantity of controlled drugs, which carries a life sentence.

Others arrested include a 42-year-old man in Melbourne, a 26-year-old man in Sunshine North, a 30-year-old man in Sunshine North, a 46-year-old woman in Abbotsford, and a 47-year-old woman in Richmond.

All eight have appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates Court, with six remanded to appear again on 15 May.

As well as heroin and methamphetamine, authorities seized approximately 0.5 kilograms of cocaine, a significant quantity of cash, drug paraphernalia, and two vehicles: a Porsche Macan and a Mini Cooper.

The arrests come after a five-month operation involving the Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police, Australian Border Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, with assistance from the Victoria Police Drug Taskforce.

ABF regional commander Craig Palmer issued a stern warning to cabin crew, revealing more than 2,000 airline staff were subject to intervention at the border last year in Victoria alone.

"Airline staff are not above the law," he said.

"They are subject to intervention at the border like everyone else and face significant penalties if they are found to be using their positions to circumvent our border controls."

Investigations both national and international are ongoing.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au