Two employees of a Malaysian airline were among eight people arrested for alleged links to a crime ring smuggling heroin and methamphetamines into Australia, police and media reports said Wednesday.
Among those arrested were a female Malindo Air cabin crew employee and another airline staffer who allegedly carried the drugs on their bodies as part of their involvement in a Vietnamese-organized crime syndicate based in Melbourne, according to the Australian Associated Press and confirmed by a Malaysian police source who requested anonymity.
Officials with the airline claimed that only one employee was arrested.
“Based on a body search conducted on the woman, authorities found one kg (2.2 pounds) of heroin on her,” the Malaysian police source told BenarNews, referring to one of the Malindo employees and adding that a Malaysian man had also been arrested.
“He also was detained with one kg of heroin. Also in Melbourne,” the source said.
An Australian police official described the investigation.
“Police identified that the drugs were being brought in to Australia by an international commercial airline with the cabin crew used as the drug couriers,” Australian Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh told reporters without naming the airline. “This was a complex five-month operation targeting an alleged Vietnamese organized crime syndicate based in Melbourne.”
Malindo Air officials, meanwhile, said one its employees had been arrested in what it described as an isolated incident.
“Malindo Air wishes to affirm that one of our cabin crew was arrested on arrival at Melbourne International Airport by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on 7th January 2019. To date however, we have not had any official communication either with our staff or from the AFP on the said detention,” the airline said in a statement issued after Australian police announced the arrests of four women and four men.
“Given all that we know to date & based on the findings of our internal investigations, we are confident that this arrest appears to be an isolated incident arising out of a crew’s misconduct. None of the remaining Malindo Air crew on the said flight were detained,” it said.
Malindo Air is owned by the Indonesian Lion Air Group. Last October, a new Lion Air Boeing 787 MAX 8 crashed into the Java Sea soon after takeoff from Jakarta’s main airport, killing all 189 passengers and crew.
Details of arrest
On Wednesday, Australian police did not name or list the nationalities of the suspects who were taken into custody between Jan. 7 – the date Malindo Air said that its employee was arrested – and Jan. 14. All eight are to appear in Melbourne Magistrate’s Court on May 15.
A police news release identified the only person arrested on Jan. 7 as a 38-year-old woman who was arrested in Tullamarine and charged with one count of importing a marketable quantity of border-controlled drugs. The international airport is in Tullamarine, a suburb of Melbourne.
Australian officials said they had seized six kg (13.2 pounds) of high-grade heroin and eight kg (17.6 pounds) of methamphetamine valued at AUS $20.9 million (61.6 million ringgit), over the course of five months. Also seized were one-half kg (one pound) of cocaine, drug paraphernalia, a Porsche and a Mini Cooper along with a “significant quantity” of cash.
Australian Border Force Regional Commander Craig Palmer issued a warning to traffickers.
“Would-be criminals should be aware that any attempts to bring these drugs into the country will be met with the full force of Australian border and law enforcement agencies before, at and after the border,” he said.
“Airline staff are not above the law. They are subject to intervention at the border like everyone else and face significant penalties if they are found to be using their positions to attempt to circumvent our border controls.”