5 charged over Australia-bound cocaine in crashed plane

A wrecked white plane with yellow and blue stripes lies on the grass

Authorities say it's possible the plane crashed because it was overloaded

Five members of a Melbourne-based crime syndicate were arrested on Monday, shortly after the plane was dispatched from the Aussie state of Queensland to nearby Papua New Guinea to collect the drugs, cops said. On Tuesday, the pilot presented himself to the Australia Consulate in Papua New Guinea and he was arrested and charged, the AFP statement said.

If convicted, the five suspects could face a sentence of life-time prison. On July 26, a small plane crashed on takeoff in Papua New Guinea, probably because of its drug cargo was too heavy.

Australian Federal Police said a Cessna loaded with more than 500kg of cocaine took off from a remote airstrip at near Port Moresby in PNG on July 26 but crashed soon after.

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The five men arrested in Australia - ages 31, 31, 33, 33 and 61 - have ties to the Italian mafia, police said. According to the authorities, the plane flew extremely low to leave Australia without appearing on the radar.

The drug raid is one of the largest in Australia's recent history.

Alleged smugglers with the plane in Queensland (AFP/Supplied) Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary seized the drugs last night, after search warrants were issued in Victoria, NSW and Queensland as well as PNG. A number of assets were seized by police, with an estimated total value of $3.5 million AUD. He was arrested and has been charged with an immigration offence.

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These include three properties, shares, account funds and a vehicle.

"This particularly audacious attempt shows just how brazen criminal enterprises can be", Australian Border Force Assistant Commissioner Peter Timson said in a statement.

The multi-agency investigation took almost two years, according to AFP Deputy Commissioner for investigations Ian McCartney.

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'Australian law enforcement remains committed to working collectively to protect Australia, which is especially important now, due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the community'.

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