Aussie who tried to import cocaine via Solomons jailed

police seize cocaine in solomon islands
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AN Australian will spend at least nine years behind bars for trying to smuggle more than 500 kilogrammes of cocaine into Australia in a yacht via the Solomon Islands.

Police said Zhen Tao Qi, 43, of Wahroonga, New South Wales was a key organiser in the importation plot that was thwarted by an “unprecedented” international investigation.

The cocaine had been loaded into a Belgian-registered, double-masted yacht in South America, before it set off en route to Australia.

It contained 501kg of the drug with a street value of up to AUD$250 million, professionally concealed within the vessel.

But the shipment was being tracked by a multi-nation investigation involving Australian, Solomon Islands and the United States police, as well as the Australian Border Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

Authorities pounced on the yacht on September 27, 2018, when it was docked in Honiara.

As the search of the vessel was underway, police in Australia launched coordinated raids across Sydney.

Qi and a 41-year-old Bonnyrigg Heights man, Zhen Zhao, were arrested and four search warrants conducted in Wahroonga, Bonnyrigg Heights, Dolls Point and Caringbah.

Earlier this month, Qi, whom police describe as one of the key organisers of the attempted importation, was sentenced to 14 years and five months’ prison for his role.

He will have to serve at least nine years before he is eligible for parole.

He had been charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs and knowingly dealing in money or other property which is an instrument of crime.

Zhao in December 2019 avoided a full-time custodial sentence when he was placed on a two-year intensive correction order.

He was guilty of knowingly dealing in money or property which is an instrument of crime.

In March last year, Australian Federal Police were granted an order by the Supreme Court to have seized items linked to Qi permanently forfeited.

It included more than AUD$130,000 in a bank account, a 2017 Land Rover Discovery registered to his wife, designer watches and AUD$20,000 cash.

AFP Detective Superintendent Ben McQuillan said strong partnerships with international law enforcement were vital to the success of the investigation.

“This was an unprecedented investigation between Australian and Solomon Islands authorities and shows what we can achieve when we work together to slam the brakes on large-scale drug importation by organised crime,” he said.

“The AFP will continue to work tirelessly to outsmart organised crime groups and to halt the importation of illicit drugs into the Australian community.”