Australian authorities have seized 3.9 metric tons of an ingredient used to make the drug methamphetamine hidden in a shipment of green tea bottles from Thailand, police said on Friday.
The seizure is the biggest bust of the chemical, liquid ephedrine, in the country's history. The amount found was enough to make methamphetamine worth 3.6 billion Australian dollars (€2.39 billion, $2.79 billion).
The chemicals were found among a shipment of more than 1,000 cartons, each containing 24 bottles of iced tea. About one-third of the bottles were found to contain the substance.
Justice Minister Michael Keenen said that 350 kilograms (771 pounds) of methamphetamine concealed in buckets of plaster from Thailand had also been intercepted in two police and border force operations over the past three weeks after information was received from Thai authorities. The approximate street value of the amount found is about $300 million.
Growing drug problem
Two men, a 22-year-old Chinese-Australian dual national and a 22-year-old Australian, were arrested earlier for their alleged role in importing the ephedrine. The offenses carry a maximum penalty of 25 years' imprisonment.
A 31-year-old Australian man was detained over the methamphetamine find. He risks life imprisonment.
The use of methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug often known as ice, has tripled in Australia over the past five years.
"We know our country has an insatiable demand for narcotics, and criminal networks will use every concealment method possible to get their harmful substances past our borders," said Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin.
The seizure of the precursor chemicals more than doubles the previous record of 1.4 metric tons, seized just four months ago.
tj/msh (dpa, AP, AFP)