SYDNEY - Australian police Thursday said they had smashed an international criminal syndicate in a joint operation with Colombia, seizing more than 480 kilograms (1,058 pounds) of drugs hidden in lemonade bottles and flower boxes.
"We are cutting the head of the snake off here," said Tim Fitzgerald from the Australian Customs and Border Protection after six men in Sydney were charged. "This syndicate has been dismantled."
A taskforce investigating the group since May has made several seizures over the past few months, including 20,000 bottles of liquid declared as "Splash Drink" lemonade flown to Sydney in December.
They were found to contain 230 kilograms of liquid methamphetamine with a street value of about Aus$156 million (US$122 million), Australian Federal Police Detective Superintendent Mick Calatzis told reporters.
Some 243 kilograms of cocaine hidden in flower boxes and destined for Europe were seized in Bogota, Colombia in January during the same joint operation. Another 10 kilograms of cocaine bound for Sydney was found in the boxes of two tonnes of fresh flowers last week, he added.
"In this particular instance it wasn't necessarily the flowers but the boxes that are used to transport the flowers or contain the flowers on their way here," Fitzgerald said.
"There is a number of methodologies used by syndicates. They will latch onto whatever one they think will be the hardest for us to identify."
Six men -- five Australians and a Spanish-Colombian national -- were arrested on Tuesday and charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, which can bring a life sentence.
The men appeared in court on Wednesday and were set to appear again on May 13, police said, adding that investigations were continuing and further arrests were expected.