Hong Kong man charged over 150 kg 'ice' haul in Australia

Hong Kong man charged over 150 kg 'ice' haul in Australia

SYDNEY - Australian police said Friday a 66-year-old Hong Kong man has been charged with attempting to bring some 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of crystal methamphetamine into the country.

Australian Federal Police and Customs, who intercepted the shipment on arrival in Sydney, said the street value of the drugs could be up to Aus$100 million (US$80.5 million).

"This is a significant detection and shows the lengths transnational gangs will go to in smuggling drugs into our country," Customs and Border Protection Regional Commander Tim Fitzgerald said.

The Australian Crime Commission considers that the drug, known as "ice", poses the highest risk of all illicit drugs to the community, and believes its use has almost doubled in the last year.

The sea freight shipment, declared to contain "chemicals", arrived from Hong Kong in late April and contained six barrels with a number of plastic bags hidden inside.

"A white crystalline substance was found inside each bag which returned a positive result for methamphetamine," police and customs said in a statement.

After authorities substituted the drug with a harmless substance, the consignment was delivered to an address in suburban Sydney and the 66-year-old man arrested.

He has been charged with importing and attempting to possess a commercial quantity of methamphetamine -- offences which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison or a Aus$1,275,000 fine or both.

Australia has become a target for organised criminals from all around the world because its citizens are paying top dollar for illicit substances.

A recent report found that while US$80 bought one gram of ice in China, users in Australia had to pay US$500 for the same amount.

"In recent years we've seen the creep of ice use stretch across the nation, with individuals from all levels of society succumbing to its depravity -- destroying families, wreaking havoc in regional and rural communities and placing significant pressure on our frontline services," Justice Minister Michael Keenan said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott in April launched a national task force to fight the scourge of crystal methamphetamine, which he said was causing "absolute devastation" in Australia.

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