Two South Coast men are among 15 arrested in connection to an alleged multimillion-dollar drug syndicate importing cocaine into NSW ports.
Michael Pirrello, 33, and Francesco Pirello, 39, were arrested in Ulladulla and refused bail in Nowra Local Court on Thursday.
They’re charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs – the maximum penalty for which is life imprisonment.
Australian Federal Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Chris Sheehan said the 15 men were "determined to exploit some of the most vulnerable members of the community".
The seizure of 500kg of cocaine in Sydney, 600kg of the drug in Tahiti and 32kg of heroin in Fiji make it the largest drug bust of its kind in Australia.
NSW Police State Crime Commander Mark Jenkins said all the drugs originated in South America before being transferred across the South Pacific by ship.
Several were arrested on Christmas Day as they docked Dalrymple. It's alleged the boat was used to ferry drugs between NSW ports and a larger ship stationed out at sea that held drugs smuggled from Chile.
Operation Okesi, comprising officers from NSW Police, Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force, started over two years after police received a "thread" of information. Since then, five alleged importations by the syndicate have been thwarted.
It includes the 2014 seizure of 32kg of heroin in Fiji and 606kg of cocaine in Tahiti in March.
On Christmas night, officers watched the crew launch a dinghy which allegedly travelled to Parsley Bay at Brooklyn and allegedly met with two other men.
All three were arrested and 500kg of cocaine seized. Several other men were arrested on board the Dalrymple as it docked on Christmas night.
Authorities valued the total amount of cocaine at $360 million.
Also arrested is: former Eastern Suburbs Roosters player John Roland Boyd Tobin, Bondi entrepreneur Darren John Mohr, maritime worker Reuben John Dawe, fisherman Joseph Pirrello, 63, Simon Peter Spero, 56, Graham Toa Toa, 42, Stuart Ayrton, 54, Jonathan Cooper, 29, Richard Lipton, 37, Frank D'Agostino, 54, and Benjamin Sara, 31. All were refused bail.
Australian Federal Police boss Chris Sheehan said the major sting over the past week was the culmination of a complex investigation which crossed domestic and international borders.
"This has been a long-running joint investigation, and I want to thank our people and our partners for their tenacity and dedication," Acting Assistant Commissioner Sheehan said.
"We’ve stopped around a tonne of cocaine and a commercial quantity of heroin from reaching Australian shores.’’
Acting Australian Border Force Assistant Commissioner, Tim Fitzgerald, said these transnational criminal networks were well-resourced.
"As we improve our capabilities to detect drugs in sea and air cargo, we know they will continue to evolve and employ sophisticated efforts to breach the Australian border," he said.
"By working closely with … our international partners, Australia’s law enforcement agencies have been able to combat those increasingly sophisticated methodologies."
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