By Tim Palmer, ABC News
Australia's surge in cocaine use is being fuelled by highly sophisticated importations by one of the most brutal and powerful syndicates involved in Mexico's drug war - the Sinaloa cartel.
Police intelligence sources have told the ABC's 7.30 Report that around half the cocaine now entering Australia is being sent from Mexico, and that the notorious Sinaloa cartel is behind many of the shipments.
The Sinaloa cartel has had operatives in Australia for several years according to the source, and was behind a number of significant cocaine hauls intercepted by Australian authorities.
The drug lord at the head of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was named in Forbes Magazine's richest 1,000 people in the world, and more recently listed by the magazine at number 41 in its list of the world's most powerful, ahead of Russian president Dmitri Medvedev and Apple's Steve Jobs.
He is Mexico's most wanted man and the US State Department has offered a $5 million reward for his capture.
Born into poverty he bribed his way out of jail in 1995, avoiding extradition to the United States by days and has been on the run ever since.
Now at 55 he commands a personal fortune estimated at more than $1 billion.
The Sinaloa cartel is one of the fiercest protagonists in the Mexican drug war which has seen more than 28,000 people killed since 2007.
The 7.30 Report has been told that intelligence from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) identified links to Sinaloa operatives in recent Australian drug hauls and in some instances identified stamps marking the cocaine as Sinaloa markings.
While not naming any particular cartel as behind the importations to Australia, the CEO of the Australian Crime Commission, John Lawler, has confirmed to the ABC that Mexico is now top of the list of embarkation points for shipping cocaine to Australia.
Mr Lawler said the scale and logistics involved in the operations intercepted by police point to high-level cartel planning.
"That activity of the sophistication and level were seeing can't be done other than by organised criminality," he said.
After a major seizure of 240 kilograms of cocaine in July, conducted by the Australian Federal Police, Customs and the NSW Police, NSW Detective Chief Superintendent Ken McKay voiced similar concerns saying, "...we don't get importations of this size by minor groups".
A 25-year-old Mexican man was among those arrested in that seizure. The ABC does not suggest the arrested man is connected with the Sinaloa cartel.
The quarter of a tonne of the drug was concealed in concrete pavers hollowed out with concrete glued over the top, then concealed in a much larger consignment. The instructions, written in code, on how to find the cocaine-filled pavers were etched into the pallets, directing the intended recipients where to look.
In another seizure the drugs were concealed in six massive steel die casts, weighing four tonnes.
According to the Australian Crime Commission, the much higher price of cocaine in Australia has made importations here highly profitable.
"If we have a kilo of wholesale cocaine in Colombia it's worth about $2,100. If that cocaine is successfully imported into Mexico it's worth $12,500. If that finds its way to the US it's worth $28,500. But if it finds its way to Australia it's worth $146,000 - an increase of more than 7,000 per cent in profit," Mr Lawler told the ABC.
The Mexican cartel's infiltration of Australia coincides with a huge surge in cocaine use.
Don Weatherburn of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and research says recent figures are unprecedented.
"There's been a huge upsurge," he said. "Thirty-six per cent per annum possession arrests over the past five years - we're at record levels as far as the drug is concerned."
In June, the Australian Crime Commission board approved the use of coercive powers to investigate cocaine and the cartels behind its importation.
Meanwhile, the security situation in Mexico continues to deteriorate. In recent weeks 10 per cent of the country's federal police officers were sacked, and 50,000 soldiers deployed to join the anti-cartel campaign.
Earlier this month US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said the Mexican drug syndicates were beginning to take the shape of an anti-government insurgency rather than just crime cartels.
In one of the worst recent atrocities last month, 72 bodies of slain migrants were found at a remote ranch in North Mexico. They are believed to be the latest victims of the Zetas cartel.
Last week Mexican authorities said they believed they had found the bodies of the two top ranking officials sent to investigate that massacre.