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Page last updated at 05:23 GMT, Friday, 8 August 2008 06:23 UK

Australian police bust drugs ring

A customs agent unpacks tins disguised as canned tomatoes holding thousands of ecstasy tablets in Melbourne, Australia
The ecstasy was hidden in some 3,000 tins disguised as canned tomatoes

Australian police say they have busted an international drugs ring and seized what they describe as the largest single haul of the drug ecstasy.

Sixteen people were arrested across Australia, with further raids expected in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy.

It follows a year-long investigation after 15 million ecstasy pills were found hidden in a shipping container that arrived in Melbourne from Italy.

The tablets had an estimated street value of about A$450m (US$400m; 200m).

The ecstasy - a banned amphetamine with mild hallucinogenic properties - was found by Australian customs officers hidden in tins of tomatoes in a shipping container in June 2007.

The pills were replaced with a harmless substitute and the delivery was tracked, police say.

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Australian customs' Michael Carmody shows off the haul

'No soft target'

The breakthrough came when another shipment of 150kg of cocaine arrived in Australia last month, which led to the raids across several countries.

In Canberra, Attorney-General Robert McClelland said Australia had shown it was not a soft target for drug smugglers - that view, he insisted, has been "well and truly" smashed.

The syndicate was believed to be responsible for 60% of illegal drug imports in to southern Australia.

Local newspaper reports have suggested that among those targeted by the police were Australians allegedly linked to the Calabrian mafia in the New South Wales fruit-growing town of Griffith, as well as others associated with an outlawed motorcycle gang.


SEE ALSO
Huge ecstasy haul in Australia
15 Apr 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australian drug dealer gets tax back
06 Jun 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia to test medical cannabis
20 May 03 |  Asia-Pacific

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