Man charged after 300kg of ephedrine found hidden in highlighter pens

Published: 26 February 2018 Image credit: Australian Border Forcer


A man has been charged following the seizure of almost 300kg of ephedrine, a precursor drug to ice, concealed in 21,000 highlighter pens.

On 10 February, a container coming from China containing five pallets of the highlighters and other stationary items was intercepted in Sydney.

The package was taken to the Australian Border Force’s Sydney Container Examination Facility, where it was x-rayed.

After officers spotted anomalies in the 50 boxes of highlighters, the package was deconstructed and testing of the highlighters retuned positive results for ephedrine.

A total of 294 kg of the precursor was found hidden – enough to make about 2.4 million hits of the drug ice, with a street value of up to $120 million.

A joint investigation by the Australian Border Force and NSW Police Force saw a controlled delivery take place at a storage facility in Sydney’s inner-west.

Three men, aged 26, 27 and 34 were arrested after allegedly opening the package on Friday 23 February. 


The 27-year-old man was later charged with importing a commercial quantity of border controlled precursor.

NSWPF Drug and Firearms Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Peter McErlain, said the bust was a “a great example” of law enforcement agencies working together to combat organised crime.

“The seizure last week consisted of around about two and half million ice hits, which would absolutely devastate Sydney, NSW regional areas if it was allowed out on the street,” he said.

Det Supt McErlain said the men were “surprised and disappointed” that their shipment has been intercepted by the “significant” partnership between law enforcement agencies.

“Ice poses a unique challenge for law enforcement, as we need to intercept the illicit importation of both finished product and precursors, such as ephedrine,” he said.

“These types of seizures can have a significant impact on the availability of ice across NSW, but our work does not stop at importations – we are also targeting the supply of this poison in metropolitan, regional and rural areas, and the crude manufacture in clandestine laboratories.

“Criminal syndicates profit from the misery created by these illicit substances, so as much as anything, the community focus needs to be on reducing the demand for all illicit drugs.”


ABF Investigations Superintendent Garry Low said the bust served as a “warning” to other criminal syndicates looking to import illegal goods over borders.

“We’ve recently invested heavily in upgrades to x-ray technology at our container examination facilities, including here in Sydney, allowing our officers to see further in to each container and detect even more sophisticated concealments,” he said.

“This technology, combined with the significant skills of our investigators, and our collaboration with our state police colleagues has once again seen a large amount of precursors seized before it could be turned into millions of hits of ‘ice’.

“ABF and our partners have made a significant dent in the availability of ice over the past 12 months, with the seizure more than 2 tonnes of ephedrine at the border in NSW alone.”

The 27-year-old man has been refused bail and will front Central Local Court on Wednesday.

He faces a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of $900,000.

The other two men, aged 26 and 34 ,have been released pending further investigation.