An alleged drug lord’s escape attempt unravelled when police knocked on the truck he was hiding in while trying to cross state borders – and he tapped back.
Mostafa Baluch – dubbed ‘Australia’s Pablo Escobar’ – was found in the boot of a grey Mercedes concealed inside a shipping container, on a truck trying enter Queensland from NSW early on Wednesday morning.
Sixteen days earlier he had cut off an ankle monitor while on bail – sparking ‘one of the largest fugitive hunts in the country’, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said.
Police stopped the truck as it crossed the border at Tweed Heads and searched the container, where they located the ‘shocked and surprised’ Baluch inside the luxury car.
‘[Officers] noticed some suspicious items with the container that wasn’t properly locked and other things that caught their attention,’ Organised Crime Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Rob Crichlow told reporters.
‘There was a knock on the side of the truck and he knocked back. He was a bit shocked and ultimately good police work secured his arrest.
‘We suspect that the person … thought it was a drop off point – that he was being signalled that it is safe.
‘Of course, he didn’t realise it was a constable.’
Mostafa Baluch (pictured sitting) has been captured by police after a two week manhunt
NSW Police Minister David Elliott paid tribute to the constable who knocked on the truck.
‘I’m tracking down the constable that did the famous knock on the side of the truck,’ he said.
‘He’ll get a beer and a hug from me when the borders open and if that’s not an enticement for Queensland to open the borders, I don’t know what is.’
Baluch was last seen in Bayview on Sydney’s northern beaches on October 25, just days after he was granted bail.
He was released from custody under strict conditions, including $4 million surety on his waterfront home at Bayview.
The decision to release Baluch on bail also proved incredibly expensive, Mr Elliott said.
‘I’d have nightmares if I even started to think about (the cost).’
Baluch had been charged with a string of drug offences related to a 900kg shipment of cocaine into Australia that had a street value of $270 million, but will also face charges over his breach of bail.
The man who was driving the truck in which Baluch was found – who police say owns a transport company – was also arrested and will be charged with harbouring a wanted person.
‘(Police) are now going through that trucking company with a fine tooth comb and we understand that there’ll be very few trucks left in the road tomorrow when they’re finished,’ Det Supt Critchlow said.
Police received a tip that the alleged drug kingpin would attempt to enter Queensland via a truck.
‘This information was quite fresh and was acted upon as soon as it came in,’ Det Supt Crichlow said.
‘We knew there was a truck. There was a lot of police work and diligence to find it.’
A photo released by police shows Baluch dressed in a T-shirt and shorts sitting on the side of the road moments after his dramatic arrest.
Baluch was taken to Southport Watch House, where he remains in custody and will appear in Southport Magistrates Court on Thursday.
Organised Crime Squad detectives have travelled to Queensland to seek Baluch’s extradition to NSW.
Det Supt Crichlow paid tribute to investigators who have spent the last two weeks working around the clock to track Baluch down.
‘He had a lot of help but there were a lot of people against him,’ Det Supt Crichlow said.
‘The community have turned the criminal element against him. He attracted a lot of attention and it’s caused impacts for people he knows.
‘We will look at everybody he knows and everybody he talks to and we have and we’ve achieved excellent results. We’ll continue with that.’
Police left no stone unturned in their quest to ensure Baluch didn’t flee the country.
‘We didn’t want to leave any opportunities for this man to flee,’ Det Supt Crichlow said.
‘We knew people overseas were waiting for him to come and join with them. That was a great concern. As the commander said, high-end targets live overseas and that causes enormous harm to Australians. So we were determined he wouldn’t leave Australia.’
Mostafa Baluch (pictured) has been captured by NSW Police after a two-week manhunt
Baluch was found in the boot of this grey Mercedes (pictured) in a shipping container on the back of a truck crossing the NSW/Queensland border at Tweed Heads
The driver of the truck that was intercepted at the border was detained eight hours later more than 200 kilometres away in Grafton.
John Kitanovski, the owner of trucking company Kit Bros, is being questioned by officers.
‘That gentleman has been detained by police and will be charged in relation to conveying the wanted person out of the jurisdiction,’ Det Supt Crichlow said.
‘He will also face further inquiries about other related offences. We’re going through that trucking company with a fine-toothed comb.
‘We understand they’ll have few trucks left on the road tomorrow when they finish.
‘This gentleman has a trucking company, he is involved in transportation but also he transports other commodities from time to time, so he’s somebody who’s been of interest to us.
‘Mr Baluch has given us opportunities we didn’t have before and this is very exciting for us because it’s given us great potential.’
Police knew they were closing in after officers raided two homes in Sydney’s south-west last Thursday.
Organised Crime Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Rob Crichlow has revealed the extraordinary details of how Mostafa Baluch was found hiding in the boot of a Mercedes in a shipping container on the back of the truck
‘We searched a number of houses last week and seized several hundred thousand dollars and other items connected with drug trafficking,’ Det Supt Crichlow said.
‘We know for sure he had been at some of those addresses.
‘We were close behind him all the way. We’ve identified what we will allege is a drug trafficking syndicate, which we’re now dismantling as a result of this investigation.
‘He was certainly, we’ll allege, connected to that group.’
The police minister publicly apologised to international law enforcement agencies and for the extensive resources spent on the 16 day manhunt.
‘Can I apologise to the international law enforcement agencies whose work led to the arrest, assisted us in the arrest originally of this individual?’ Mr Elliott said.
‘And of course the anxiety that’s been caused over the last two weeks because of the very questionable decision to give him bail in the first place.
‘As I said from day one, I was embarrassed for the Australian Federal Police, because they had to go and tell our international law enforcement partners that we had lost one of the big ones and it was embarrassing that a suburban magistrate was responsible.
‘I was embarrassed because of the cost to investigate in the first place, let alone the cost of the last two weeks.’
NSW Police Minister David Elliott (pictured) apologised for the anxiety that’s been caused over the last two weeks after Baluch went on the run three days after he was granted bail
The minister also described Baluch’s arrest as a great morning for policing, just days after youngster Cleo Smith was found alive and well after a 18 day disappearance.
The $4 million Bayview home Baluch’s family had put up as bail surety is expected to be seized, along with ‘a number’ of other properties linked to Baluch.
‘I think Matt Kean (the NSW treasurer) will be very happy today because the Treasury will now get access to that money,’ Mr Elliott said.
State Crime Commander Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said police celebrated when they heard the good news shortly after Baluch’s arrest.
‘This is an extensive operation. We have thrown everything at it, human resources, intelligence, international agencies, technologies from multiple agencies, that has brought us to the position of this apprehension,’ he said.
Baluch pictured outside his home in Mona Vale on October 25, just hours before the alleged international drug lord disappeared
The arrest of the man dubbed as ‘Australia’s Pablo Escobar’ comes after police seized cocaine and more than $250,000 in cash after raiding homes in Yagoona and Potts Hill in Sydney’s south-west on Thursday night as part of national and international efforts to find Baluch.
Baluch was last seen in Bayview on Sydney’s northern beaches on October 25, just days after he was granted bail and released from custody under strict conditions.
His ankle monitor tracker was found at a nearby golf course in Mona Vale, on Sydney’s northern beaches.
He had been charged with a string of drug offences related to a 900kg shipment of cocaine into Australia that had a street value of $270million.
A day after he went missing, police believe they spotted Baluch in the backseat of a black Range Rover as it travelled east on the M4 at Croydon. The vehicle was later found and seized by police.
Police seized more than $250,000 cash, about 200 grams of cocaine, 485 grams of an unknown substance, mobile phones, and an electronic money counter at the two Sydney homes raided last Thursday night.
Officers from NSW Police, the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force were involved in the investigation.
Detective Superintendent Robert Critchlow addresses the media after
HOW THE COPS CAUGHT BALUCH
2020: Mostafa Baluch was arrested as part of an investigation into an alleged organised crime sting plotting to supply three tonnes of cocaine in NSW. Detectives started the investigation after receiving a tip about a person gambling a huge amount of money at the Star Casino. The betting was flagged as potential money laundering and kicked off an investigation that eventually became focused on drug trafficking.
June 2021: Charged with drug offences when his Bayview home on Sydney’s northern beaches was raided
October 22, 2021: He was granted bail on several conditions and was forced to wear an ankle monitor
October 25, 2021: The tracking device stopped working and police began urgently tracking down the fugitive
October 26, 2021: Baluch was due to face court but didn’t arrive. Police believe they spotted Baluch in the backseat of a black Range Rover as it travelled east on the M4 at Croydon.
November 4: Police raid homes in Potts Hill and Yagoona in Sydney’s south-west in their manhunt for Baluch. They seized more than $250,000 cash, about 200 grams of cocaine, 485 grams of an unknown substance, mobile phones, and an electronic money counter
November 5: Organised Crime Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Rob Crichlow says police are closing in on the hunt to find the fugitive and believed he was still in NSW.
November 10: Baluch is captured by police on the NSW/Queensland border when police intercepted a truck. Baluch was found hiding in the boot of a Mercedes SUV in a shipping container on the back of the truck.
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