A tip-off from Thai authorities has led to the seizure of the biggest-ever haul of methamphetamine precursor chemicals bound for Australia and stopped drugs worth some $3.6 billion from hitting the streets.
Two consignments bound for Sydney - 3.9 tonnes of liquid ephedrine concealed in iced green tea bottles and 350 kilograms of methamphetamines hidden inside buckets of plaster - were intercepted in the past three weeks, Australian authorities say.
Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan on Friday said the bust was a "very successful operation attacking supply" and would hurt smuggling organisations.
"This is money we've denied to the criminal economy," the minister said in Sydney.
The 3.9 tonnes of liquid ephedrine could have produced 3.6 tonnes of methamphetamine with a street value of $3.6 billion.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin told reporters investigators would now focus their investigation on the offshore Australian and international criminal networks behind the attempted importation.
He credited the Royal Thai Police with the tip-off that led to the seizures.
"Australian organised crime is increasingly basing itself offshore," he said.
"One piece of intelligence, one simple piece of intelligence, has lead to both of these seizures. It's a significant hit to organised crime."
Australian Border Force Acting Commissioner Michael Outram says the sophisticated criminal operation began in Bangkok.
He said ABF investigators first picked up on a lead in April but it wasn't until September 15 that the first suspicious container arrived in Australia.
Officers at the ABF's Botany Bay examination facility found 24000 bottles of ice tea in a thousand cartons. A third contained ephedrine.
"Only by opening them and drying them out could they get a presumptive test that was positive," he said.
"The concealment was very sophisticated."
On September 23 a second container arrived in Sydney containing 50 tubs of liquid paster solution.
Examination revealed 350kg of methamphetamine in seven tubs.
Mr Outram said: "It shows you the determination of the organised criminals who want to get this illicit commodity into our country to do harm to our communities, to our kids and to our families."
"It's a constant game."
Three people had been arrested following the seizures
A 31-year-old Glenmore Park man was arrested on September 29.
A 22-year-old woman from Westmead with dual Chinese and Australian citizenship and a 22-year-old man from Rydalmere were arrested on October 4.
Mr Keenan said the combined effort by the AFP, ABF and Thai authorities had resulted in the illicit drugs being kept off the streets.
So far this year authorities have intercepted more than seven tonnes of illicit narcotics in total headed for Australia.
"Today's results are an example of what can be achieved through national and international partnerships," Mr Keenan said.