Australia police and FBI arrest five in drug smuggling probe

NSW Police arrest a suspect in an international drug ring, September, 2015 Image copyright NSW Police
Image caption A four-year investigation led to the arrest of five men

Five people including a prominent Australian music promoter have been arrested in a joint Australian and FBI anti-drug smuggling operation.

The case allegedly involves drug money which was laundered through casinos, New South Wales police said.

The probe was sparked by the discovery of A$700,000 ($495,000; £320,000) in cash at a Sydney hotel in 2011.

The men face various charges including trafficking, money laundering and participating in a criminal group.

Four of them, including a man named by the Australian media as music promoter Andrew McManus, were arrested in Australia, and the fifth in the US.

Mr McManus's lawyer said he would "strenuously defend the charges that have been brought against him", AFP news agency reports.

The NSW Police statement did not name any of the men.

Image copyright NSW Police
Image caption Police say cash, steroids and cannabis were found during raids in Sydney

The case dates back to a swoop on the Sydney hotel in 2011 where A$702,000 was found in a suitcase.

New South Wales (NSW) Police had faced legal action to return the money following a claim that it was legitimate payment for a concert tour, but the case was thrown out of court.

Then in late 2014, Organised Crime Squad detectives launched a series of raids in Sydney and Melbourne, uncovering more than A$68,000 in cash, and drugs, steroids, documents and electronic equipment.

The operation also uncovered information relating to the alleged importation of 300kg (600 pounds) of cocaine from Mexico to Australia, via the US.

Police said on Friday those drugs never made it to Australia.

NSW Det Supt Scott Cook told reporters: "We'll allege that the criminal network involved has been importing cocaine to Australia [and] that approximately A$5m or so has been laundered as a result of that importation."

"The A$702,000 that we seized in 2011 related to that," he said, saying it would have been passed to a professional gambler in Australia.

Mr McManus, who has organised tours and events for several high profile international bands, was arrested in Melbourne, Victoria on Thursday evening.

He has been charged with perverting the course of justice and making a false statement, both offences allegedly relating to the money seized in the hotel and the court case to reclaim it. He was also charged with knowingly participating in a criminal group to assist crime.

Image copyright NSW Police
Image caption "Detectives never lost focus", police say of the four-year investigation

Police said two men aged 32 and 55, and a 65-year-old solicitor from Sydney, were also detained in New South Wales and charged with offences in connection with the investigation.

The man arrested in the US was American businessman Owen Hanson. He was detained by the FBI while playing golf in San Diego.

Australian police want to extradite him to Australia to face numerous charges, including money laundering, perverting the course of justice and being involved in the supply of a large amount of illegal drugs.