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Case study: NSW Police drug referrals

In recent years, there has been a fairly steady increase in referrals from the NSW Police in relation to matters involving Commonwealth drug and precursor importation charges. However, in 2019‑20 there has been a marked increase:

  • 2017‑2018 – 29
  • 2018‑2019 – 33
  • 2019‑2020 – 98

Some are fairly straightforward matters being investigated by the NSW Police Area Commands (PACs) or some larger ones out of their State Crime Command. The smaller matters involve single accused importing or attempting to possess border controlled drugs contained in parcels sent by mail. However some referrals have involved multiple co‑accused and many have related to very large drug seizures.

Key challenges for investigators and prosecutors come from State/federal differences:

  • Commonwealth search warrants and controlled operations certificates are obtained under the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), whereas NSW search warrants are under Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) and their controlled operations are under Law Enforcement (Controlled Operations) Act 1997 (NSW).
  • Difference in charging with state drug offences charged on the basis of the gross drug weights and Commonwealth drug offences charged on the amount of pure drugs requiring a higher degree of sampling and analysis.

NSW Police matters referred to this Office will often involve some state offending in addition the Commonwealth charge for importing border controlled drug, such as offences of drug possession or supply offences and sometimes firearms offences. These state offences are different to the offences we usually prosecute.

This has provided us with an excellent opportunity to build on our existing relationships with the NSW Police through early consultation in matters (provision of pre‑brief advice, often urgent), consultation in relation to the development of Standard Operating Procedures for the testing of drugs (purity) and development of training for their investigators and highlighting our Partner Agency Portal which contains legal resources to assist the NSW Police investigators.

There has been genuine discussion about feedback from both sides to improve their investigation strategies and brief preparation as well as our delivery of prosecution services.

An example of a matter referred by the NSW Police is that of Mr Yuhui Li who was convicted after trial for importing a commercial quantity of border controlled precursor involving just over 210 kgs of pure ephedrine. Mr Li had rented two storage units in a false name. A consignment containing 50 boxes with 40 smaller boxes within them was delivered from China. Each smaller box contained 30 highlighters. The Australian Border Force examined the boxes and found that the 21,000 highlighters contained ephedrine. NSW Police arranged the delivery of the highlighters to the storage unit. Mr Li then entered the storage unit and was observed to try and open the highlighters. Shortly after he was arrested. The matter went to trial in August 2019 and he was sentenced in December 2019 to nine years imprisonment, non‑parole period of six years.