One of the men arrested after Australian police thwarted an attempt by a Mexican cartel to bring 2.4 tons of cocaine worth $1 billion into the country was reported missing by his family.
Filipe Valesu, 30, disappeared from his home in Sydney on November 18, triggering a NSW Police bulletin with his photo asking for his whereabouts 12 days later.
He was one of 12 people arrested after the largest drug bust in the country’s history.
The US authorities intercepted the shipment off the South American coast at the end of November and alerted the WA police.
Australian authorities switched the drugs with fake packages filled with plaster before they were then dropped into the ocean 50 miles off the coast of WA.
During the covert international operation, police dropped a dummy shipment of cocaine about 40 nautical miles west of Perth, where a coastal party reportedly made multiple attempts to locate and recover it, leading to their arrests.
WA police arrest one of the alleged smugglers in Hillary’s Boat Harbor in WA
Filipe Valesu, 30, was reported missing from his family in Sydney in November before being arrested on December 31 following the cocaine bust
A party on the coast then allegedly made multiple attempts to locate and retrieve it – while police kept a close watch.
They allegedly used two boats, Cool Runnings and The Catalina, to make a number of trips near the dropped packages before they could find them.
WA police have released extraordinary footage showing various stages of the dramatic operation.
In one clip, agents hoist dozens of large packages, weighing up to 1.2 tons, into the ocean during a nighttime operation.
The huge packages were so heavy that officers had to kick them off the back of the boat before waving them goodbye.
WA Police Commissioner Colonel Blanch said the team monitored the drop-off point for two days using drones and ground crews.
They then saw a boat trying to find the cargo, while a second boat joined it.
Aerial footage showed three officers sprinting across the beach at Moore River to apprehend three of the alleged smugglers in one of the boats.
The Catalina searched for the massive drug shipment off the WA coast
Cool Runnings also joined the search for the fake drugs on behalf of the police and her crew allegedly found them
On December 31, nine men were charged with attempted possession of 1.2 tons of cocaine after search warrants were executed in the metropolitan area.
Filipe Valesu was among them after going missing a month earlier when police issued the alert citing his family’s concerns over his “outside character” disappearance.
“He was last seen on Friday (November 18, 2022) around 8 a.m. at Sydney Domestic Airport,” police wrote.
‘Filipe is described as being of Pacific Islander/Maori appearance, about 5’7″ tall, of stocky build, with black hair and a black beard. He has tribal tattoos on both arms.’
It is unclear whether his sighting at the airport is related to his alleged trip to WA.
The others arrested include Laban Joshua Saininaivalu, of Champion Lakes, William Seru, of NSW, and Reremoana Kahui Patrick Stanley, of no fixed address, who were reportedly aboard the ship Cool Runnings, The West Australian reports.
American Justin Lujan Wetherbee and NSW residents Neil Michael McGregor, Kelepi Lovodua, Paul Anthony Masterson and Issac Henry Rabuatoka were arrested aboard the Catalina and in raids after raids on hotels in Perth.
They have been charged with attempted possession of cocaine with intent to sell or supply it.
WA Police make an arrest in Hillary’s Boat Harbor near Perth after the massive operation
The police used drones to monitor the decoy transports
After New Year’s Eve, another man, Kenny Chen, was arrested and charged with attempted possession of 200 kg of cocaine.
Further intelligence led officers to a vehicle traveling on the Great Eastern Highway where they discovered more than $2 million in cash and charged another man and a woman.
Commissioner Blanch said it was a complex operation involving dozens of specialist agents and detectives.
“This operation has enabled us to identify those members of the syndicate who were equipped and prepared to receive and distribute a significant amount of illegal drugs within the community, who otherwise would have gone undetected and awaited the next shipment, out,” he said.
“Our goal is to identify and apprehend those responsible for shipping the drugs, as well as those crime syndicates on land who are out to receive and profit from distribution in our community.