Australia has joined a unique multi-national taskforce to tackle the growing problem of illicit drugs being exported from South American countries including Colombia.
Paramilitary police, army and navy officers from Australia, Europe and America are for the first time working together with Colombian authorities to target drug cartels, News Corp reported on Sunday.
Australian Federal Police have set up a base in the Colombian capital of Bogota and officers are being sent to Mexico after identifying a cartel there as being in charge of most of the illicit drugs being shipped to Australia.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan will also reportedly visit Colombia later this year to discuss ways to stop drugs flowing to Australia.
The moves by the AFP and government come as 22-year-old Adelaide woman Cassandra Sainsbury remains behind bars in a Colombian jail after being arrested for allegedly having 5.8kg of cocaine in her luggage at Bogota airport in April.
The AFP’s head of Americas Grant Edwards said authorities couldn’t rely on drug seizures alone to stop illicit substances ending up in the hands of Australians.
“You can’t seize your way out of this, it’s got to be a whole process … wherever there is demand there is supply,” he told News Corp.
“In terms of what we are seeing there is no shortage of people, criminals, willing to traffic to Australia as we’ve seen recently with the large shipments we’ve detected.
“The quantities moving to Australia are substantial and like I said you can buy kilo of cocaine in South America for $2500 and to Australia $US180,000 so it’s mind-blowing the profits that can be made.”Along with Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Cuba have been identified by Australian authorities as key transit points for drugs flowing Down Under.
Colombia has appealed to Australia to help bolster the fight against drug cartels by providing access to more intelligence and technology sharing.
National police chief General Jorge Hernando Nieto said greater international co-operation on dismantling the structures behind global drug distribution was essential.
“We have to strengthen the human aspect of an investigation but then there’s the technology aspect, the capacity aspect and having that interchange international to bring together all aspects of the criminal investigation not just the tactical but judicial and operational intelligence in order to be more effective,” he told News Corp.
Meanwhile, the fiance of Cassandra Sainsbury insists she is innocent and says he is planning to travel to Colombia soon to visit her.
Colombian authorities claim Sainsbury was being used as a drug mule, but the Adelaide woman says she was tricked into carrying the 18 parcels of cocaine and that she believed the packages were headphones she had bought as gifts.