Malaysian, 7 Australians charged over $277 million meth haul

SYDNEY - A Malaysian and seven Australians have been charged over a seizure of the drug "ice" worth some US$206 million (S$277.22 million) in Australia, authorities said Monday (Jul 4).

Some 275 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine were found under the floorboards of shipping containers after a tip-off, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said.

As part of a controlled operation, the containers were delivered to an industrial estate in Melbourne with the suspects all aged between 24 and 34, arrested.

"Three were charged with commercial drug importation offences and the five others were charged with attempting to possess and trafficking a large commercial quantity of methylamphetamine," the department said, with the maximum penalty life imprisonment.

Australian police said they worked with Chinese authorities on the case, as they cooperate to fight criminal syndicates trafficking ice to Australia and internationally.

The arrests come after 14 suspected members of an international drug ring - eight Chinese and six Malaysians - were charged in Australia in May over a US$144.4 million seizure of ice.

Australia has launched a multi-million dollar strategy to combat the growing use of the drug after a government report revealed the country has proportionally more users than most nations.

The Australian Crime Commission study last year showed that ice users had doubled since 2007 to more than 200,000 people in 2013, with anecdotal evidence that numbers have grown since then.

It found that while US$80 bought one gram of ice in China, users in Australia paid US$500.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana said there was an "ever increasing demand for illicit drugs" and "as long as there is demand, there will be a market".