Operation Jardena, the Australian Border Force (ABF) anti-drugs programme, is now monitoring 1,000 individuals and 100 companies at docks and freight terminals, suspecting many may be involved in smuggling.

ABF has issued 165 infringement notices since Jardena began in 2021, but said wastewater testing showed around 80% of illegal drug imports were successful, “despite the thousands of tonnes per year we are stopping”.

Now, evidence suggests ABF is stepping up its operations, with 8.9 tonnes of cocaine seized last year and 4.5 tonnes found between January and April this year so far, versus an average 2.5 tonnes in previous years.

Australians pay as much as $400 per gram for cocaine, among the highest prices in the world, thanks to the difficulty involved in importing it. Among the ABF’s main concerns is ‘piggybacking’ – where the name of a legitimate importer is fraudulently used to smuggle in illegal goods.

ABF is encouraging customs brokers to verify the identify of their clients – “not necessarily an onerous task,” according to Paul Zalai, director of Australia’s Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA).

“For example, in the context of piggyback consignments, a simple search of your client on the internet or a phone call through the claimed company’s main switchboard could reveal discrepancies between details you have been provided and those of the legitimate entity.”

Mr Zalai suggested the ABF could limit the ability of customs brokerages to pay import duty, GST and cost recovery charges on behalf of client importers, thereby requiring them to “provide financial banking data direct to the ABF”.

He explained: “This data in turn can be used for risk assessment and identity verification, significantly reducing the risk of ‘piggyback’ consignments.”

He added: “From an industry perspective, it is hoped that the intelligence received through Jardena allows better targeting by the ABF of high-risk consignments, rather than a potential knee-jerk reaction to the media report of simply stopping more cargo.”

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