Airline Crew Allegedly Involved in $20 Million Drug-Trafficking Ring

By Keri Blakinger 01/22/19

Police say the key players in the alleged drug ring used crew members to hide drugs on their bodies for flights to various Australian cities.

airline crew accused of being a part of a drug-trafficking ring

At least one airline worker and seven other suspects were arrested this month in Australia on drug-trafficking charges after authorities said they smuggled in more than $15 million of heroin, meth and cocaine as part of an international drug syndicate. 

In a series of raids over the course of 10 days, the Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police collared key players in the alleged criminal ring, which had relied on crew members to hide the drugs on their bodies during flights destined for major Down Under cities like Melbourne and Sydney, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"This is a significant seizure but I think reality would say that it's not the total amount of drugs that this team have brought into this country,” Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh of the Victoria Police told the Australian outlet. 

The final bust netted six kilograms of heroin, eight kilograms of meth and half a kilo of coke. Authorities also seized pricey cars, various drug paraphernalia and $100,000 in cash, according to news reports.

It’s not clear how long the illicit dealings had been going on.

"Intelligence would tell us that this crew has been operating for some years, I would say five plus,” Walsh said. “I don't know whether or not it's decades."

Based on a five-month investigation – dubbed Operation Sunrise – it appears the Vietnamese drug ring was based in Melbourne and made use of the small Malaysian airline for its seedy endeavors. 

“Malindo Air stands ready to co-operate with all the relevant authorities be it in Australia or in Malaysia in this regard,” the company said in a statement. “As a responsible international air carrier, Malindo Air does not condone any act that is criminal in nature or misconduct by our personnel. All our flight and cabin crew are adequately trained & continuously appraised in all aspects of their conduct to comply to our stringent operating standards.”

The implicated crew member has since been suspended pending termination, the company said, framing the entire thing as “an isolated incident.”

Although Malindo only acknowledged one crew member’s involvement, CNN reported that two airline staffers were implicated.

So far, four of the arrestees – all women – have been charged with importing controlled drugs, the network reported. Authorities did not immediately release their names. 

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.