News ID: 272348
Published: 0614 GMT August 02, 2020

PNG’s biggest drug bust: The plane crash, the dead man and the half ton of cocaine

PNG’s biggest drug bust: The plane crash, the dead man and the half ton of cocaine
The light plane that crashed at a makeshift airfield at Papa Lealea, outside Papua New Guinea’s capital of Port Moresby. The plane is alleged to have been involved in an attempted drug-smuggling operation into Australia.

A light plane crashes at an illegal airfield outside Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (PNG): The plane is registered to a dead man, there is no pilot, no passengers, no cargo.

Days later, the biggest drug bust in PNG’s history is made: More than 500kg of cocaine, reported.

An Australian man — in PNG without a passport — turns himself in at the high commission.

Nearly a week after a Cessna 402C twin-engine aircraft crash-landed in mysterious circumstances at a makeshift airfield in scrubland at Papa Lealea on the outskirts of PNG’s capital, police believe they have uncovered exactly what the plane was doing, and why it had flown into the country.

Police said they believe the plane was involved in an attempt to smuggle a massive quantity of drugs into Australia — so massive it may have crashed the plane — and is evidence that PNG has become a transit point for transnational criminal syndicates.

In an operation involving the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC), five men in Queensland and Victoria have been charged with offenses including involvement in a conspiracy to import commercial quantities of drugs and directing or assisting criminal organizations. Some charges carry potential life sentences in prison.

One Australian man has been charged with immigration offenses in PNG but police say that further charges, related to the alleged drug importation, are expected to be laid against him.

Police allege the Cessna twin-engine took off from Mareeba in Queensland on July 26, flying illegally at just 3,000 feet above the ground all the way to PNG, in an effort to avoid radar detection.

In a statement, police said it was alleged the pilot attempted to “collect drugs” between 1 p.m. and 2.30 p.m., local time, on July 26.

The plane is believed to have crashed while attempting to take off, police alleging “greed played a significant part in the syndicate’s activities and cannot rule out that the weight of the cocaine had an impact on the plane’s ability to take off”.

The PNG police commissioner, David Manning, said the drugs were then hidden.

“We believe the PNG members of this criminal group assisted the pilot and retrieved the drugs from the plane,” he said.

“Police are in possession of information related to the suspected PNG members of the group who have been involved in this criminal activity, including descriptions and unique features.”

The syndicate had allegedly prepared a truck with hidden compartments to transport the drugs south from Queensland.

Late on Friday, Manning announced police – using sniffer dogs that detected traces of cocaine at the site of the plane crash — had uncovered 28 bags of cocaine weighing 500kg. With a value in excess of $80 million, it is the largest drug bust in PNG’s history.

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