Australian authorities have found 384kg of cocaine with a street value of about $144 million concealed within an excavator.


A joint operation involving ACT police, NSW and Federal Officers, and the Australian Border Force, has become the largest drug interception co-ordinated by ACT police ever.

Earlier this year, ACT Policing received information relating to a possible drug importation syndicate operating in southern NSW and the ACT. The joint operation commenced and in June, Border Force officers intercepted a second-hand excavator which had arrived from South Africa. A hydraulic excavator is a heavy piece of construction equipment used to dig into the ground. The machine was X-rayed at the Sydney Container Examination Facility and anomalies were identified. Upon further inspection, the 384kg of cocaine was found concealed within the machine.

Subsequent investigations led to the identification of a number of people of interest in the two States. A controlled delivery of the excavator was then carried out, resulting in the arrest of two men from Karabar NSW, Adam Phillip Hunter and Timothy John Engstrom, ages 33 and 34, at a Bungendore business on Sunday. These men have been charged with the importation for a commercial quantity of border-controlled drug and attempting to possess a border-controlled drug. On Monday they appeared at Queanbeyan Magistrates Court where they were remanded. They did not apply for bail and it was formally refused.

Acting Deputy Commissioner Huey has stated: “this was an incredibly sophisticated concealment of cocaine, but through our joint efforts, we’ve been able to disrupt this syndicate and stop these harmful substances from infiltrating our borders” and “our officers have highly sophisticated technology at their disposal and this detection really shows no matter the lengths criminals go to – even if they weld drugs into machinery – we have the skills and equipment to find these concealments.”


Section 307.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (the Criminal Code) – Importing and Exporting Commercial Quantities of Border Controlled Drugs or Border Controlled Plants

  • A person commits an offence if:
  1. The person imports or exports a substance; and
  2. The substance is a border controlled drug or border controlled plant; and
  3. The quantity imported or exported is a commercial quantity.

Penalty: Imprisonment for life or 7,500 penalty units ($825,000), or both.

  • The fault element for paragraph (1)(b) is recklessness.
  • Absolute liability applies to paragraph (1)(c).

Subsection (2) means that the Prosecution need only prove that the offender was reckless to the fact that the substance is a border-controlled drug or plant.

Subsection (3) eliminates any fault elements for any of the physical elements of the offence; and the defence of mistake of fact is unavailable.

Section 307.5 of the Criminal Code – Possessing Commercial Quantities of Unlawfully Imported Border Controlled Drugs or Border Controlled Plants

  • A person commits an offence if:
  1. The person possesses a substance; and
  2. The substance was unlawfully imported; and
  3. The substance is a border controlled drug or border controlled plant; and
  4. The quantity possessed is a commercial quantity.

Penalty: Imprisonment for life or 7,500 penalty units, or both.

  • Absolute liability applies to paragraphs (1)(b) and (d).
  • The fault element for paragraph (1)(c) is recklessness.
  • Subsection (1) does not apply if the person proves that he or she did not know that the border controlled drug or plant was unlawfully imported. A defendant bears the legal burden in relation to this matter (they must prove it).

The men are being charged with attempt to possess in this case. The Criminal Code describes Attempt under section 11.1:

  • A person who attempts to commit an offence commits the offence of attempting to commit that offence and is punishable as if the offence attempted has been committed.

For more information on the offence of drug importation/exportation, check out our dedicated page.


“Australia is a nation that loves stimulants” according to Professor Gordion Fulde, Emergency Department Director of hospitals in Sydney City. The National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) says cocaine use amongst young people in Australia is at its highest reported since recording of such data began in 2003, 15 years ago. The Centre spoke to approximately 800 respondents, averaging 21 years of age, with 59% of respondents stating they used cocaine in the last 6 months, making this figure a 12% increase since 2017. Although cocaine use is of less concern to medical practitioners compared to lifestyle drugs like methamphetamine, some of the most common negative effects of cocaine use is chest pain, according to Dr Fulde.

Quite prevalent in the media, is the opioid crisis the US is now facing, namely via fentanyl which is a synthetic form of heroin used in prescription medication. Allegedly the crisis is spreading, with reports that cocaine and meth is now coming laced with fentanyl. It is now feared likely that drugs laced with fentanyl will make their way to Australia eventually. Cocaine arrives to Australia from 47 different countries, with the top exporter being the United States, and the number one supplier, Colombia.

It is stated that most cocaine is actually imported to Australia via international mail, from the ‘dark web’, Dr James Martin, a criminology specialist on dark web drugs at Swinburne University, states it is 5 or 6 times cheaper to buy illicit substances using this method. He contends that the dark web is a contributing factor to the rise in cocaine use seen in Australia. Drug dealers over the dark web even purport to have their cocaine sourced with ‘fair trade’, non-cartel, non-violent sourcing. This concerning news means that our Border Force and Police Agencies need to maintain their intelligence sources to stay ahead of the game.

For more on other drug offences, have a look at our dedicated page.

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