Gangs & Organized Crime
10 Biggest Drug Busts Of All Time

This week, six men have been jailed after using a fake ambulance to smuggle drugs from Holland to the UK. A British court heard they were moving “Truly colossal” quantities of cocaine, heroin and ecstasy with a street value of £1.6bn ($2.1bn) during at least 45 separate trips.

The drugs were kept sealed behind panels within the Dutch ambulances. They would enter the UK through ferry ports with bogus patients and paramedics on board. Officers tracked the ambulances and discovered 193 kilos of cocaine, 74 kilos of heroin, two kilos of MDMA crystal and 20,000 ecstasy tablets. Brent Lyon, at the National Crime Agency, who led the operation to catch the smugglers said, “This was an audacious plot by organised criminals who were driven by profit and who went to extreme lengths to avoid law enforcement attention.”


It’s to these seizures that this list is therefore dedicated, taking in the ten largest hauls to date, and hopefully showing that, for every ‘biggest drug bust of all time’ that’s made the headlines, there’s always another one waiting just around the corner…

10. Australia, 2007: 4.4 Tons of Ecstasy Worth $309 Million

In 2005, Australian authorities seized 1.1 tons of MDMA in what was then described as “one of world’s largest ecstasy busts.” This hundred-million dollar cargo certainly was impressive, yet the Aussies broke their own record only two years later when they wrapped their hands on 4.4 tons of the stuff in a meticulous operation that also landed them mob bosses.

Yet the 2007 seizure might have turned out very differently. At first, everything went swimmingly well for the Calabrian mafia involved in the transport of the MDMA. They had sent 15 million tablets of methamphetamine from Naples to a Melbourne dock, and the tomato cans in which these tablets were stored had performed a very good job of deceiving the freight authorities who initially received them.

Unfortunately, things began to sour for these illegitimate businessmen when one dock worker did something she wasn’t expected to do. Instead of phoning the telephone number on the invoice that had accompanied the “tomatoes,” she Googled the Australian company that had been falsely named on the invoice as the recipient of the goods. This was an entirely legitimate firm the mob had used as a cover, so when she rang the number she found on the web, she was put through to them, rather than the criminals who would send some “employees” over to pick up their illicit merchandise. Unsurprisingly, the legit firm denied all knowledge of having ordered any pasta sauce.

This meant that the freight company had little choice but to unpack and inspect the goods themselves. Given that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) had already been investigating the gang responsible for the consignment, and given that they had already been keeping tabs on the container, they moved in as soon as the dock workers began unloading it. Even though they wouldn’t catch any gang members by doing this, their commandeering of the haul in secrecy meant that the Calabrian mafia began to worry about their precious cargo.

Their Australian boss, Pasquale Barbaro, uncharacteristically peaked his head out of the woodwork, asking a local journalist to inquire with the AFP as to whether any ecstasy had been requisitioned by them recently. It was this kind of unusual behavior that enabled the police to link Barbaro and 32 others to the delivery of the 15 million tablets, ensuring that, in addition to drugs worth around $309 million, they also convicted big-name criminals they wouldn’t have apprehended if the female dock worker had simply phoned the number on the invoice she’d received.

About the author

Simon Chandler is a freelance journalist and critic. He writes music reviews for Tiny Mix Tapes and PopMatters, book reviews for Electric Literature and the Kenyon Review, and has contributed articles to the likes of The Morning News, AlterNet and Left Foot Forward. He does not endorse crime in any way, shape or form.

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