Asbestos identified as substance sending a scare through consulates

A Victorian man accused of sending asbestos-filled packages to embassies and consulates across Australia has fronted court but given no indication of his motive.

Savas Avan, 49, faced Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday, charged with posting 38 dangerous articles to foreign diplomatic offices across Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.

Police have not ruled out the existence of further hazardous parcels but Victoria’s acting Premier Tim Pallas told reporters no state government departments had received questionable mail.

Avan was arrested on Wednesday night at his Shepparton home where officers wearing protective suits later scoured the property.

A court artist sketch by Paul Tyquin of Savas Avan who faced Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday charged over suspicious packages sent to embassies and consulates across Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. Source: AAP

He was taken into custody hours after the discovery of numerous suspicious packages which triggered a string of emergency responses across Melbourne, prompting the evacuation and closure of some consulates.

A prosecutor told court the deliveries contained asbestos.

Federal and Victorian police allege the asbestos was sourced from his Shepparton home.

“Police have so far recovered 29 of these packages, with forensic testing to be undertaken on them to determine the exact composition of the material in them,” the federal and state police said in a joint statement.

A man has been charged over suspicious packages sent to foreign embassies and consulates. Source: AAP

“Police have identified all intended recipients and have put processes in place to recover the outstanding packages. There is no ongoing threat to the general public.”

Mr Pallas was pleased with the swift response by authorities.

“They were very quick on to it, they provided advice to the relevant consular residences and in practical terms we learnt very quickly, that evening, that the substance was inert,” he said.

India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States consulates were among a number across Melbourne and Canberra targeted.

It came two days after Sydney’s Argentinian consulate was partially evacuated following reports of a suspicious substance.

But at least two consulates in Melbourne did not contact authorities about packages until they received an email from the Australian government.

The Greek Consulate General on St Kilda Road and the Pakistani consulate in Albert Park both received suspect packages but did not contact authorities straight away.

The packages have been found to contain asbestos. Source: AAP

Greek vice-consul Georgia Botsiou told SBS Greek radio it had received the package on Friday afternoon.

“It didn’t have a return address. Written on the top was ‘samples’ and because it didn’t have a return address and without it having a note inside, we thought it was suspicious and, because of that, we isolated it from the start,” Ms Botsiou said, translated from Greek.

The Pakistani consulate was delivered a package at 10am on Wednesday but only contacted authorities when prompted by an email from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

A spokesman for DFAT told AAP it had sent an email to all Canberra-based diplomatic missions on Tuesday and then to other consulates across Australia, “alerting them to the possibility of suspicious packages being delivered by mail.”

Avan did not apply for bail and is expected back in court on March 4.