Australia’s most wanted man Mostafa Baluch hatched a plan to sail from Wollongong and tried to reach the Balkans in Europe via Thailand, police allege.
Mostafa Baluch was in Sydney for most of his time on the run and at one point hatched a plan to escape NSW Police by sailing from Wollongong, investigators allege.
Police are investigating whether after abandoning the Wollongong scheme, Baluch instead attempted to sneak into Queensland where he hoped to sail to Thailand before escaping to the Balkans area of Europe.
But the alleged drug smuggling bail breacher was caught at the NSW-Queensland border.
He was allegedly hiding in a Mercedes on the back of a truck, police said.
“The police strategy was to put enough pressure on him and his associates for him to make a mistake,” detective superintendent Rob Critchlow told NCA NewsWire.
His arrest at Tweed Heads in the early hours of Wednesday morning was the culmination of a two-week manhunt that has been described as one of Australia’s most intensive.
Police searched high and low for the 33-year-old Sydneysider, who is alleged to have been the financier behind a 900kg shipment of cocaine into Australia that had a street value of $270m.
Cops checked out leads in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland during the hunt.
But as police now piece together the details of his time on the run, it turns out the likeliest theory is he was close to home the entire time.
Police believe the northern beaches man stayed in the city after he allegedly cut off his ankle bracelet on October 25.
Investigators suspect he frequently moved around different neighbourhoods, before setting out for the northern state border hidden in the truck.
It can be revealed that police suspect Baluch visited the inner city and also at least one of the two homes that police raided last week in Potts Hill and Yagoona in southwestern Sydney.
“Desperate” to leave the country, his escape plans were believed to have included boarding a flight from Bankstown Airport, and sailing out from Wollongong, police said.
But those plans were thwarted by a police strategy of maximum pressure.
The intensive and public search for Baluch caused other alleged underworld figures to consider him “hot”, which helped police gather information about his whereabouts.
It also prevented the fugitive from carefully planning his escape.
When officers stopped the truck in which he tried to cross the border, the vehicle stuck out to them because it wasn’t properly locked.
The truck driver was an alleged associate of Baluch’s who had access to the vehicle because he ran a shipping company.
The 46-year-old Sutherland Shire man was charged with intending to pervert the course of justice, and refused bail ahead of a Wednesday court appearance in Grafton, NSW.
Mr Critchlow declined to specify what possible connection the two men had before the truck trip.
“They probably share some similar business interests,” he said.
The information police have gathered during the manhunt will likely lead to more people being arrested, he said.
“We’re working on a few other people, there’ll certainly be more arrests and seizures of property.”
Baluch was previously arrested in June and charged by NSW authorities with a string of offences, including supplying a prohibited drug and dealing with the proceeds of crime.
He spent the night in custody on the Gold Coast before a magistrate approved for his extradition back to NSW on Thursday morning.
Baluch was dialled in to Southport Magistrate’s Court from lockup, speaking only briefly via speakerphone.
A number of NSW Police packed into the courtroom for Thursday’s hearing.
“Yes, I can hear you,” were Baluch’s only words after he was asked if he was on the line.
Police plan to transport him on one of the force’s own aeroplanes back to Sydney, NCA NewsWire has been told.
He is due to appear in Sydney Central Local Court on November 12.