Saleyards director arrested in Serbia over $500-million cocaine haul

A prominent Canberra-region businessman is among three men linked to the ACT who were arrested in Serbia suspected of ties to an international drug ring that tried to smuggle more than a tonne of cocaine into Sydney last year.

Rohan Arnold, 43, once headed up Goulburn engineering firm Mass Steel and is a director of the Western Victoria Livestock Exchange. It's believed the other two men behind bars are also connected to Canberra.

Police allege the men were connected to the discovery of 1280 kilograms of cocaine that was seized from a Chinese container boat docked in Sydney in April.

The drugs were allegedly found in 2576 packages hidden in steel tubes on the ship and were said to be worth $500 million.

Federal police raided Mr Arnold's home at Murrumbateman, just outside the ACT, and business premises in Goulburn on Wednesday and Thursday.

Mr Arnold's defence lawyer, Ben Aulich, on Thursday said: "We're in the process of organising access to see him in Serbia.

"That will be coordinated through (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)."

"If everything is co-ordinated smoothly and he is not facing charges in Serbia, then we expect him back in the country within four-to-six weeks."

Mr Aulich declined to comment further.

Serbian police released dramatic footage of the arrests that took place overnight in a Belgrade hotel lobby.

The footage also showed a bag filled with foreign currency. Police said the arrests were made during a "money handover".

Serbian authorities said the arrests had been were made in cooperation with Australian police.

An Australian Federal Police spokesman said "the men are the subject of an investigation in Serbia" and declined to comment further.

The trio is expected to face charges of conspiracy to import commercial quantities of a controlled drug in the NSW Supreme Court. That offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Mr Arnold's business website said he was born and educated in Canberra. He graduated with a commerce degree in 1995.

Three Australians were arrested in the foyer of a Belgrade hotel, accused with importing cocaine into Australia. Photo: Serbia Police

Three Australians were arrested in the foyer of a Belgrade hotel, accused with importing cocaine into Australia. Photo: Serbia Police

He had a 20-year career in the steel manufacturing industry and acted as director of ArnoldCo, Arnold Trading and Arnold Contracting, the website said.

He also worked on regional projects including the South Eastern Livestock Exchange in Yass and the Mortlake Saleyards.

Police identified the men by their initials and year of birth as Australian citizens TV (1983), RA (1974), and DK (1969); along with DG (1977), a citizen of Lebanon.

The Lebanese citizen was detained and charged with having forged identity documents.

B92 reported the men were arrested with a large amounts of various currencies, including euros, Australian, US and Singaporean dollars, Czech korunas, Vietnamese dong, Japanese yen, Chinese yuan, Thai bahts, and Serbian dinars.

They also allegedly had one pistol.

Serbian authorities said they would "continue to cooperate with Australia's authorities in order to implement further action related to this permanent international investigation".