Australian man faces life in prison over large cocaine haul

SYDNEY (AP) — A Sydney man is facing life in prison after Australian police intercepted cocaine worth AUD248 million concealed in frozen fruit products from Brazil.

The Australian Federal Police and Border Force officers seized 552 kilogrammes of the drug hidden in pallets of banana pulp and branded with koala pictures in Sydney on Friday.

They also arrested a 68-year-old man at Forestville in the city’s northwest following a tipoff from American authorities about the suspect shipment, which arrived in Australia on September 21.

Police allege the man, Mark De Hesselle, collected 139 boxes of the pulp and removed the drugs. He has been charged with attempting to import a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs and possessing a commercial quantity of unlawfully imported border-controlled drugs. Both offences carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Police Detective Superintendent Geoffrey Turner said COVID-19 border restrictions had not prevented criminal groups trying a range of methods to bring illicit drugs into Australia.

“Organised crime groups and their associates are taking bigger risks and looking to move more illicit goods in bulk as a result of global lockdowns,” he said in a statement yesterday. “They think choosing everyday items such as fruit would be innocuous enough to thwart law enforcement detection.”