A New Zealand-born man allegedly involved in an international drug syndicate that imported 585kg of methamphetamine into Australia has had his bail application refused in court.
Tony Ming Ly, 21, the alleged driver in the syndicate, appeared in Sydney's Central Local Court this afternoon charged over the import of the drugs worth A$438 million.
Police allege the IT student from the University of Western Sydney hired a van the day before he and two foreign nationals were arrested while attempting to transport the drugs from a Sydney storage facility.
Unknown to them, officers from an undercover operation had intercepted the drugs when they arrived to Sydney in a shipping container last week from southern China.
They replaced the illicit substance with a similar quantity of an inert substance.
In court, Ly's mother offered to put up the family home, worth A$400,000, as surety.
But Magistrate Les Mabbutt said the prosecution had a strong case and denied him bail.
Police allege Ly was the driver of the hire van, which had a GPS inside that contained an address where officers seized 18kg of iodine.
The court heard that iodine is commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
Ly's co-accused, Hong Kong national Cheung Tuen, 51, and Singaporean national Boon Cheng Leow, 32, did not apply for bail, which was formally refused.
All three men will have their matters heard before the same court on May 8.
ONE CALL ALL IT TOOK
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the Joint Organised Crime Group, consisting of leading law enforcement agencies, would not have arrested the Asian drug syndicate's three men without one simple tip off.
"That one phone call was the one thread that allowed us to pull and unravel a syndicate that will be stopped forever.
"A member of the public had seen that things weren't right at a particular location at a commercial premises and contacted the police," he said.
The Asian Crime Squad began investigating the matter in September last year and provided the vital ground work for other agencies to work up to the record haul, he said.
"As the sheer scale and complexity of this operation became apparent, we quickly involved our partner agencies," he said.
Scipione said police WEre talking to Chinese authorities and investigations WEre continuing overseas with more arrests likely.
Police Commissioner Tony Negus said it was unclear how long the syndicate had been operating in Australia.
"There was suspicious activity and then there was good work by the police to go and talk to this individual and then take it to the next level of identifying much more suspicious activity," he said.
Negus said the Sydney-end of the syndicate received the drugs disguised as cleaning chemicals shipped in containers from south China.
"We will allege there were a number of dry runs, the syndicate was testing the procedures of Customs and police and again it all started back with that one phone call," he said.
Police intercepted the drugs, replaced them with a fake consignment and then monitored the men who collected the drugs from Sydney wharf.
"These people were arrested when they left the warehouse with what they thought were the drugs and it was without incident," he said.
Customs and Border CEO Michael Pezzullo said 85 per cent of detections come from 'intelligence leads'.
"If you are really just screening materials you really are just looking for needle not just in a hay stack but in millions of hay stacks, as there are millions of containers in Australia," he said.
- Sydney Morning Herald and AAP