Sig­na­tures and seizures

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - CHARLES MIRAND A

“Like any plant, when it’s grow­ing it sucks up nu­tri­ents, chem­i­cals and other things from the soil. It also gets af­fected by how high al­ti­tude it is, how close to the coast it is and, while it’s grow­ing, chem­i­cals in that plant are get­ting pro­duced in dif­fer­ent ra­tios and dif­fer­ent types of chem­i­cals are be­ing pro­duced.”

The sciences to break­down a seizure of co­caine is backed by a data­base cre­ated by the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion in the US which can link the grow­ing and pro­duc­tion to a spe­cific car­tel.

While most of the co­caine is grown and pro­duced in South Amer­ica — no­tably Colom­bia, Peru and Bo­livia — sig­nif­i­cantly al­most 80 per cent of co­caine be­ing seized com­ing to Aus­tralia is con­trolled or in­flu­enced by car­tels in Mex­ico.

“For me the best way to think about it is like wine, so if you think about shi­raz in the Barossa Val­ley and shi­raz in Mar­garet River it’s go­ing to taste dif­fer­ent. That’s be­cause it’s been grown in a dif­fer­ent area and that’s be­cause of the chem­i­cals in the HE has never trav­elled there but An­drew Parkin­son can speak in minute detail about the hills, val­leys and rain­forests of Colom­bia, Peru and, to a lesser ex­tent, Bo­livia.

He knows the soils, the cli­mate and even the air den­sity but he’s not a botanist, rather Mr Parkin­son is the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice Foren­sics Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions’ Act­ing Co-or­di­na­tor Crime Scene, and he helps col­leagues track ex­actly where the co­caine flood­ing our shores is com­ing from.

The next gen­er­a­tion of drug-pro­fil­ing tech­nol­ogy al­lows foren­sic spe­cial­ists to es­tab­lish where the coca leaf which is turned into co­caine is grown. Those sig­na­tures then help iden­tify grow­ers and the car­tel re­spon­si­ble for the traf­fick­ing.

“Our pro­fil­ing can tell you sam­ples grown in one val­ley and if you go to an ad­ja­cent val­ley we will tell the dif­fer­ence,” Mr Parkin­son said from his high-se­cu­rity lab­o­ra­to­ries in Ma­jura on the out­skirts of Can­berra. grapes. That’s a pretty good anal­ogy to co­caine,” Mr Parkin­son told The Sun­day Tele­graph on an ex­clu­sive tour of the Ma­jura fa­cil­ity. “Also if you get the same grapes from one re­gion and lots of peo­ple mak­ing wine, each wine is go­ing to taste dif­fer­ent be­cause of the dif­fer­ent pro­cesses each of the wine­mak­ers do makes a taste dif­fer­ence.”

A sam­ple of a co­caine seizure is taken first to Ma­jura for pre­lim­i­nary checks then to the Na­tional Mea­sure­ment In­sti­tute lab­o­ra­tory, part of the Depart­ment of In­dus­try, Innovation and Sci­ence, to pro­file the sam­ples’ four chem­i­cal “sig­na­tures”.

Each seizure’s an­a­lyt­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion can take be­tween one to two months to com­plete.

Each job is pri­ori­tised on the ba­sis of im­mi­nent ar­rests, pub­lic safety and crim­i­nal tar­get­ing.

MDMA (ec­stasy) and metham­phetamine (ice) seizures can also be traced, to a broad re­gion.

“What’s im­por­tant … is to un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing, what are the trends, what are the routes the co­caine is mak­ing into Aus­tralia,”

Mr Parkin­son said.

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