Newcastle Man Charged Over $15m Black Flight Meth Haul

A Newcastle man is set to face court today over his alleged involvement in a black flight from Papua New Guinea to Australia which was used to import a drug haul with an estimated street value of $15 Million.

He was one of five men arrested as part of an Australian Federal Police-led investigation, when the light aircraft touched down at a remote airstrip in Queensland on Tuesday, allegedly loaded with 52-kilos of methamphetamine bound for NSW.

It will be alleged the men were “transnational serious organised crime members” who handled the practical arrangements for the drug run, with three of them accused of providing ground support, staging themselves in Queensland since February in preparation. The two pilots were also charged.

The 54-year-old Newcastle man is accused of helping transport a tank of aviation gas to central Queensland to re-fill the aircraft at the remote airstrip, and of purchasing and renting equipment for the importation.

The investigation was part of Operation Gepard, a joint effort between the AFP, the NSW Police Force’s State Crime Command under Strike Force Redground, and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission which has been ongoing since November 2022.

According to police over the course of March 20 and 21, a 51-year-old Fairy Meadow man and a 52-year-old Tahmoor man piloted a twin-engine Beechcraft light aircraft from Wilton, a rural area south west of Sydney, to the town of Bulolo in PNG, stopping to refuel at an airstrip in the central Queensland town of Monto.

It will be alleged the pilots collected 52kg of methamphetamine in PNG and then returned to the airstrip at Monto. The men allegedly flew at an unauthorised low altitude with the aircraft’s transponder switched off during the return journey in an effort to avoid radar detection.

All five men were arrested by specialist AFP and Queensland Police Service members shortly after the plane touched down at Monto on Tuesday afternoon. Police located and seized five duffle bags concealed in the plane, containing about 52kg methamphetamine.

Following the arrests, the AFP and NSW Police officers raided four homes and businesses at Wilton, Tahmoor, Fairy Meadow and the Newcastle suburb of Wallsend where they seized electronic devices, firearm parts, drug paraphernalia and documentation referencing aircraft parts and travel to PNG. All items will be subject to further forensic examination.

All five men were charged with importing a commercial quantity of methamphetamine contrary to section 307.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), and face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted.

Four of the accused faced Bundaberg Magistrates Court yesterday, and the Newcastle man is expected to appear today.

The syndicate also allegedly used encrypted phones and messaging systems to communicate with other members of the supply chain based offshore. Further inquiries are continuing into how the drugs were sourced, and to identify others responsible for planning the importation.

The AFP, NSW Police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission have monitored the alleged NSW-based criminal syndicate, which has significant international links, for an extended period of time. It will be alleged the syndicate were attempting to create a supply chain for delivering illicit drugs to Australia using black flights.

Investigations into how the drugs originally entered PNG are ongoing.

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