The shipment of MDMA was big enough to make seven million ecstasy pills.
The shipment of MDMA was big enough to make seven million ecstasy pills.

How police cracked $140m drug operation

A SENSATIONAL undercover sting has ambushed international party-drug kingpins who targeted Brisbane with a shipment of 700kg of crystalline MDMA - enough to make an astonishing seven million ecstasy pills.

One of the biggest MDMA seizures in Australian history will be revealed on Friday as details of Operation Parazonium expose the nation's insatiable appetite for drugs.

Dutch police, who have flown to Brisbane, will outline the bombshell bust with the Queensland Joint Organised Crime Taskforce, involving Australian Federal Police, Queensland Police, Border Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

The 10-month Australian and Dutch investigation has led to the arrest of 10 people in the Netherlands.



A woman in NSW was extradited to Brisbane on November 12, charged with one count of attempt to possess a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs.

The Australian offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The drugs, which would have arrived in Brisbane before Schoolies - but was much too large an amount to be targeted solely at the event - comes as debate rages in Australia about pill testing at music festivals.

The undercover operation, which included embedded AFP officers overseas, intercepted the 700kg of crystalline MDMA, near Rotterdam, Amsterdam.

With a street value of $140 million, the drugs were packed in a shipping container topped with tinned pulped tomatoes.

It is understood law enforcement intercepted the drugs before they were shipped, but the offenders believed the contraband had been sent to Brisbane.

Further details about the undercover operation, and how police infiltrated the syndicate, could be revealed on Friday.

After the initial haul was seized in Rotterdam on August 23, a further 15 search warrants were executed in Belgium and the Netherlands on November 5, netting a further 150kg of crystalline MDMA.

A MDMA laboratory concealed in a rural hay barn.
A MDMA laboratory concealed in a rural hay barn.

Dutch Criminal Investigation Division seized 548 litres of MDMA oil, capable of producing about 658kg of crystalline MDMA, which has an estimated street value of $131.6 million.

About 400 litres of precursor chemicals were also seized.

Authorities believe the second load may too have been destined for Australia, meaning a whopping 850kg of crystalline MDMA - capable of producing 8.5 million ecstasy pills - could have hit the party circuit, causing havoc for police and paramedics.

Two key members of the syndicate - father and son Paulus Johannes Berkhof, 58, and Petronella Adrianna Waltherus Adriaan Berkhof, 37 - have been charged in the Netherlands but will not be extradited to Australia.

Exclusive vision obtained by The Courier-Mail shows armed Dutch police - some carrying chainsaws - descending on a rural property where a hi-tech laboratory was shielded in a hay barn.

Bails of hay hid chemicals, equipment and large amounts of drugs.

A Dutch police officer executing a search warrant
A Dutch police officer executing a search warrant

It is unknown why the transnational crime group targeted Brisbane, but it is estimated more than 1.1 tonnes of MDMA is consumed in Australia each year, with 223kg in Queensland alone.

New AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw, who will be in Brisbane on Friday, said it was important that the offenders faced prosecution.

"The AFP is committed to working closely with its law enforcement partners here in Australia, through partnerships such as the Queensland Joint Organised Crime Taskforce, and overseas to ensure offenders face considerable consequences for their actions," Mr Kershaw told The Courier-Mail.

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw will discuss the record bust in Brisbane today.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw will discuss the record bust in Brisbane today.

"I wish to thank our Dutch counterparts for their expert involvement in this investigation and strong support of our efforts to keep these drugs off Australian shores."

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the operation underscored the country's tough stance on drugs.

"As a result of close co-operation between our Commonwealth, State and international agencies, this operation has prevented nearly $140 million of illicit drugs from reaching our streets - drugs that would have had a devastating impact on Australian lives and families," he said.

"Drug abuse destroys lives and families and this investigation highlights the organised, well-financed nature of these criminal networks who seek to do harm to our communities.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton

"When our agencies work together - both domestically and internationally - we help ensure Australia is safer and more secure.

"Today we are sending a clear message to serious crime networks: Australian law enforcement will not stop, and Australia is not open for business with organised crime."