One of the men arrested after Australian police thwarted an attempt by a Mexican cartel to bring 2.4tonnes of cocaine worth $1billion into the country was reported missing by his family.
Filipe Valesu, 30, vanished from his home in Sydney on November 18 sparking a bulletin from NSW Police 12 days later with his picture asking for his whereabouts.
He was one of 12 people arrested following the largest drug bust in the history of the country.
US authorities intercepted the shipment off the South American coast in late November and alerted WA Police.
Australian authorities switched the drugs with fake packages filled with plaster-of-paris before then dropping them off in the ocean 80 kilometres off the coast of WA.
The covert international operation saw police drop a fake shipment of cocaine about 40 nautical miles west of Perth, where a shore party allegedly made multiple efforts to locate and retrieve it leading to their arrests
WA police make an arrest of one of the alleged smugglers at Hillary’s Boat Harbour in WA
Filipe Valesu, 30, was reported missing by his Sydney family in November before his arrest on December 31 following the cocaine bust
A shore party then allegedly made multiple efforts to locate and retrieve it – as police kept a close watch.
They allegedly used two boats, Cool Runnings and The Catalina, to make a number of trips in the vicinity of the dropped packages before they located them.
WA Police released extraordinary footage showing several stages of the dramatic operation.
In one clip officers heave dozens of large packages, weighing up to 1.2 tonnes, into the ocean during a night-time operation.
The huge parcels were so heavy officers were seen having to kick them off the back of the boat before waving goodbye to them.
WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the team watched the drop-off point for two days using drones and ground crew.
They then spotted one boat trying to find the cargo while a second boat joined in.
Aerial footage showed three officers sprinting across the beach at Moore River to arrest 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 police and its crew allegedly found them
On December 31, nine men were charged with attempting to possess 1.2 tonne of cocaine after search warrants were executed across the metropolitan area.
Filipe Valesu was among them after going missing a month earlier when police issued the alert citing concerns from his family over his ‘out-of-character’ disappearance.
‘He was last seen at Sydney Domestic Airport about 8am on Friday (18 November 2022),’ police wrote.
‘Filipe is described as being of Pacific Islander/Maori appearance, about 175cm tall, of solid build, with black hair and a black beard. He has tribal tattoos on both arms.’
It is unclear if his sighting at the airport is linked to his alleged travel 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 allegedly aboard the vessel Cool Runnings, reports The West Australian.
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 following raids on Perth hotels.
They have been charged with attempting to possess cocaine with intent to sell or supply.
WA police make an arrest at Hillary’s Boat Harbour near Perth following the massive operation
Police used drones to keep watch on the decoy drug shipment
Following New Year’s Eve, another man, Kenny Chen, was arrested and charged with attempting to possess 200kg of cocaine.
Further intelligence led officers to a vehicle travelling on the Great Eastern Highway, where they discovered more than $2million in cash and charged another man and a woman.
Commissioner Blanch said it was a complex operation involving dozens of specialist officers and detectives.
‘This operation has enabled us to draw out those members of the syndicate who were equipped and prepared to receive and distribute a significant amount of illicit drugs within the community, who may have otherwise gone undetected and waited for the next consignment,’ he said.
‘Our objective is to identify and apprehend those responsible for sending the drugs, but also those onshore criminal syndicates set to receive and profit through distribution in our community.