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

A former Goulburn businessman is among three men arrested in Serbia on Wednesday suspected of ties to an international drug ring.

Rohan Arnold, 43, who headed up Mass Steel in Goulburn from 2011, is suspected of ties to the ring accused of trying to smuggle more than a tonne of cocaine into Sydney last year. He was arrested when police stormed a Belgrade motel on Wednesday.

Mr Arnold also worked on the South Eastern Regional Livestock Exchange at Yass. He is also linked to a proposed service centre in that town. In addition, he 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."

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

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 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 emerged in Goulburn in 2011 after his firm, Mass Steel, leased space in the former DME Kermac Engineering business in Cemetery Street, North Goulburn. The steel fabrication firm took on all 20 employees and promised to protect their entitlements. 

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But 18 months later the business struck financial trouble. The company went into liquidation in June 2012, with $11.5 million in debt, liquidators Kazar Slaven confirmed at the time. Worker were owed an estimated $1.42m in superannuation and entitlements. While many reclaimed this money through a government scheme, some did not recover their superannuation.

A host of businesses in Goulburn, the Southern Highlands and beyond also claimed Mass Steel owed them thousands of dollars.  

Yesterday, SELX director Brendan Abbey did not return requests for comment. However he told the ABC he was shocked by Mr Arnold’s arrest, which he only discovered through the media.He said he had last spoken to Mr Arnold on Sunday.

In a statement he said neither the Yass or Victorian saleyard were affected by the arrest and operations would continue.