A small plane which last week crashed shortly after takeoff on a flight from a remote airstrip in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to Australia was overloaded with more than 500kg of cocaine, police said yesterday.
Police from Australia and PNG said they had recovered 28 bags of cocaine worth A$80 million (US$57.11 million) and arrested five suspected drug traffickers connected to the Cessna which came down shortly after takeoff from Papa Lea Lea, north of Port Moresby, on Sunday last week.
The five men were members of a Melbourne-based criminal syndicate, with alleged links to Italian organized crime, the police said. If convicted, all five face life imprisonment.
“The AFP [Australian Federal Police] alleges greed played a significant part in the syndicate’s activities and cannot rule out that the weight of the cocaine had an impact on the plane’s ability to take off,” the police said in a statement.
The plane was found abandoned and empty. The drugs were subsequently recovered at a different location in PNG.
The Australian pilot presented himself to the Australian Consulate in PNG after the crash. He has been arrested and charged with an immigration offense.
The arrests were a result of an almost two-year multiagency operation.
Media in PNG reported, citing the police, that it was the largest drugs haul by value in PNG history.
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