Two Wollongong men arrested after police smash alleged cocaine syndicate

Two Wollongong men have been charged after more than 20 kilograms of cocaine was seized during a joint-agency investigation into international drug trafficking by NSW Police and the Australian Border Force.

A joint investigation into the importation and supply of cocaine was established by police detectives from the drug squad and investigators from the ABF in September, called Strike Force Brundson.

As part of their joint inquiries, ABF officers inspected a large consignment from Spain on Monday, October 9, where they located and seized 21 kilograms of cocaine concealed in tiles.

The cocaine has an estimated street value of $6.3 million.

Following further inquiries, Strike Force Brundson investigators made two arrests in Wollongong on Friday: 35-year-old Ahmad El Hage at Warrawong and Zachary Chie, 31, at a wrecking yard at Dapto.

During a search of Chie's vehicle, investigators located and seized more than $125,000 in cash, and 66g of cocaine.

Shortly after the arrests, NSW Police Force and ABF investigators executed search warrants at homes in the Wollongong suburbs of Lake Heights and Albion Park, and a factory unit at Oak Flats on the south western shores of Lake Illawarra. They seized a shortened .22 calibre rifle, ammunition, mobile phones, documentation, and drug paraphernalia.

El Hage was charged with import commercial quantity of border controlled drug.

Chie was charged with import commercial quantity of border controlled drug, supply prohibited drug, possess unregistered firearm-prohibited firearm, possess ammunition without holding licence/permit/authority, and deal with property proceeds of crime.

Australian Border Force officers inspected a large consignment from Spain, where they located and seized 21 kilograms of cocaine concealed in tiles. Photo: NSW Police

Australian Border Force officers inspected a large consignment from Spain, where they located and seized 21 kilograms of cocaine concealed in tiles. Photo: NSW Police

They were refused bail and appeared at Wollongong Local Court on Saturday, where they were formally refused bail to reappear at the same court on Wednesday.

Joint investigations under Strike Force Brunsdon are continuing.

The drug squad commander, Detective Superintendent Tony Cooke, said despite large seizures of cocaine, both at the border and beyond, demand remains high.

"According to wastewater analysis in 2016, NSW has almost double the consumption of cocaine, compared to the next highest state, in terms of doses consumed per day – and this is the most important issue to be addressed," Superintendent Cooke said.

He said the government agencies need community support "to incite real cultural change in relation to drug use".

"By working together to reduce the demand, we can hit these illegitimate businesses where it hurts the most: on their bottom line," Superintendent Cooke said.