Holidaying teenagers were believed to have been the target of a huge drug smuggling operation. But international police have prevented millions of ecstasy pills flooding into Australia.
In a joint operation, Australian and Dutch authorities seized $200 million (€180 million) worth of MDMA — the key ingredient in ecstasy — in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Eleven people were arrested in the operation, preventing millions of ecstasy pills reaching Australia, police said Friday.
Police said two high-profile members of the drug-smuggling ring included a 58-year old Dutch man arrested in Belgium and 37-year-old Dutch man arrested in the Netherlands. Both are awaiting trial in the Netherlands.
A 48-year-old woman was arrested in Sydney and charged with attempting to smuggle illegal drugs. If convicted, she faces life imprisonment.
The drugs were reportedly timed to target holidaying Australian teenagers during the post-exam period known as schoolies, where Australian school leavers celebrate the end of their exams.
"That is one of the most significant operations in the history of the collaboration between all of our agencies," said Interior Minister Peter Dutton, who heads Australia's police and security agencies. "The timing would have meant that these pills are hitting the street ... at a time just before schoolies," he said.
According to the Australian Federal Police, some 850 kilograms (1,873 lbs) of crystalline MDMA were intercepted in August in the Dutch port of Rotterdam, after a monthslong investigation.
Subsequently, Dutch police raided 15 locations in the Netherlands and Belgium on November 5 and found two hidden laboratories, additional stashes of MDMA and 50 tons of precursor chemicals.
"We believe that this criminal network was involved and able to produce many thousands of kilos of MDMA, equivalent to tens of millions of pills, a large part of which was likely destined for Australia," said Andy Kraag, assistant commissioner of the Dutch National Criminal Investigations Division.
Kraag added that those arrested in Europe included two "high-value targets" of a notorious Dutch drug smuggling network and that further arrests were expected. "We want to target the complete chain," he said.
mvb/rt (AFP, dpa)