How the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG are infiltrating Australia’s border security for cocaine trafficking

The hidden underworld of Australia's cocaine crisis, where corrupt border security allegedly colludes with Mexican drug cartels.

In Mexico, two drug cartels have achieved a strong presence throughout the country and expanded their operations to other continents. These are the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG), considered transnational criminal organizations.

In the world of drug trafficking, Australia has become a country where the supply and consumption of cocaine have grown exponentially in recent years. This has been linked to new routes used for drug smuggling and alleged links between cartels and people working in the border security regime, such as at air and sea ports.

A former Sydney airport employee told Four Corners (an Australian investigative team that reports on ABC News) that criminal organizations could import tons of cocaine into Sydney thanks to border agents.

The unnamed interviewee indicated that there are immigration and customs personnel who are on the cartels’ payroll. “It’s not just one person they have, and they have a syndicate probably in every state. In every airport, in every port,” he said.

Australia es uno de los países con el mayo consumo per cápita de cocaína (Foto: REUTERS/Karen Toro)
Australia is one of the countries with the highest per capita consumption of cocaine.

While journalists Mahmood Fazal, Amos Roberts, and Dylan Welch were unable to verify the relationship between workers in Australia’s border security regime and drug traffickers, the Australian Border Force (ABF) launched Operation Jardena in late 2021 to identify personnel with links to organized crime.

Although the former worker did not explicitly mention which criminal groups in Mexico he worked for, the Australian media outlet indicated that they were the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG. However, his connection to them was through an intermediary who is now a fugitive from justice.

He explained that these criminal organizations not only have the support of Australian border agents who oversee the importation of cocaine but also have their group of hitmen and administrative personnel who supervise their businesses.

He indicated that he acted as a “gateway,” a term used to refer to a person or group of people who facilitate drug trafficking entering through the Australian border. In this way, the interviewee mentioned that he organized the cocaine coming in and out of Sydney airport.

El Cártel de Sinaloa es una de las organizaciones criminales de México que ha logrado expandir sus negocios a otros continentes (Foto: Infobae México)
The Sinaloa Cartel is one of the Mexican criminal organizations that has expanded its business to other continents (Photo: Infobae Mexico).

To do this, he had magnetic cards that allowed him access to restricted areas. According to his statements, every two or three days, he imported up to 15 kilograms of cocaine, with a commission of 30% of the product.

The way Mexican cartels corrupt Australian border security workers comes in two forms: intimidation and bribes. “Someone would get them drunk, give them cocaine, and explain the amount of money they could make,” he explained.

If this did not work, the traffickers would tell them in a threatening tone that they knew where their family lived, who they were, and what their jobs were, warning them that there were certain risks if they did not agree to “cooperate” with them.

Finally, the interviewee commented that he stopped working at Sydney airport, as he knew that at any moment, they could “get rid” of him. However, he is still involved in drug trafficking, as he is now a member of an “outlaw” motorcycle club.

Decomisaron un cargamento de 2.4 toneladas de cocaína a un cártel mexicano en Australia: Foto: Captura de pantalla
A 2.4-ton cocaine shipment was seized from a Mexican cartel in Australia: Photo: Screen capture.

Cocaine in Australia

The number of cocaine detections at the Australian border increased by 447% in the last decade, rising from 482 kilograms in 2010 to 2,660 in 2020, according to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s (ACIC) Illicit Drugs Data Report 2019-20.

From 2019 to 2020, cocaine shipments intercepted at the border occurred in air, sea, and international mail cargo flows. During that period, 24 countries were identified as being involved in trafficking drugs that were being shipped to Australia. “By weight, Mexico was the main cocaine shipment point detected,” the report said, although it also included the United States, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, and France.

This is reflected in the consumption levels, as in 2020, there were just over 5 tons of cocaine consumed in Australia, according to the twelfth report of the National Drug Monitoring Program, prepared by the AITC and the University of Queensland.

The most recent seizure of this substance was made in early March 2023. According to reports from the Australian Police, a shipment of 2.4 tons of cocaine linked to a Mexican cartel was seized, with an approximate value of USD 676,800 million.

During these actions, 12 people were arrested as part of an undercover operation in November 2022, in which the Transnational Serious and Organized Crime Squad (TSOC) participated.

Also, in August last year, a 50-year-old New South Wales man was sentenced to nine years in prison for importing 188 kilograms of cocaine supplied by a Mexican cartel in 2019. The drug was concealed in hundreds of aluminum ingots so that authorities would not intercept it, but it was eventually seized. This has highlighted the presence of Mexican criminal organizations on Australian territory.