The biggest haul of cannabis in the state's history, with an estimated street value of nearly $67 million, has been seized during a monster police operation in the Central West on Tuesday.
Six people were arrested and more than 19,000 plants seized and Drug and Firearms Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent John Watson said the operation was one of the most significant he's seen.
"In terms of scale, this is one of the largest and most commercial cannabis enterprises we've seen - with significant infrastructure, including two large dams, commercial generators, earth moving equipment, across multiple sites, all of which require attention from workers seven days a week," he said.
In 2019, detectives from the State Crime Command's Drug and Firearms Squad, assisted by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), established Strike Force Harthouse to investigate the cultivation and supply of cannabis across NSW.
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Since its inception, strike force investigators have charged 51 people - 48 men and three women - and seized 69,654 cannabis plants, valued at more than $217 million.
As part of ongoing inquiries, detectives uncovered a rural property in Dandry - about 35km north of Coonabarabran, or three hours north of Orange - being used for the large-scale cultivation of cannabis.
A lot of money has been invested into the property, which we allege existed purely for cannabis cultivation.- Drug and Firearms Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent John Watson
Following extensive investigations, strike force detectives executed a crime scene warrant at a property at the Newell Highway, Dandry, at about 8am on January, 18.
Drug and Firearms Squad detectives were assisted throughout the operation by Orana-Mid Western Police District, the Dog Unit, Central Metropolitan Region Enforcement Squad (South) and officers from across the state's Western Region.
So far during the search, police have seized 19,082 cannabis plants, with an estimated potential street value of nearly $66.8 million, with the operation expected to continue over the coming days.
Six people - five men and one woman - were arrested and taken to Dubbo and Coonabarabran Police Stations.
All six - aged between 23 and 42 - were charged with cultivate prohibited plant (large commercial quantity cannabis), knowingly take part cultivate (large commercial quantity cannabis) and participate criminal group contribute criminal activity.
They were all refused bail to appear at Coonamble Local Court on Wednesday, January 19.
Investigators are working with the Department of Home Affairs regarding the visa status of the group.
Det Supt Watson said the seizure of more than 19,000 cannabis plants is believed to be a national record.
"About 90,000 square metres of land has been illegally cleared at this property to make way for more than 20 greenhouses containing cannabis plants at various stages of maturity," Det Supt Watson said.
"A lot of money has been invested into the property, which we allege existed purely for cannabis cultivation."
State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, said police continue to see serious and organised crime groups exploit regional areas for cannabis cultivation as part of their business model.
"These types of operations have no regard for the environment or local community and are utilised by criminals only because the crop cycle for cannabis is relatively short - which can mean a quick source of revenue if successful," Assistant Commissioner Smith said.
"This particular cannabis crop has resulted in the yield of around 11.5 tonnes of high-end cannabis. This was a sophisticated processing plant with the sole purpose of preparing the commodity for market.
"Make no mistake, if this operation was not dismantled, the cash sales from this crop would have flowed through poker machines of regional pubs, clubs and casinos across the state, then sent offshore or used to fund other criminal activities.
"These sorts of syndicates are global, diversified and ubiquitous, and involve substantial amounts of planning using Dedicated Encrypted Communication Devices (DECDs), which are beyond the reach of authorities.
"It remains one of the highest priorities of NSW Police to dismantle the ability of criminals to obtain illicit proceeds and disrupt their operations - just as we've done yesterday," Assistant Commissioner Smith said.
Investigations under Strike Force Harthouse are continuing.
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