An attempted sting operation backfired for Australian police, after they intercepted a shipment of cocaine, swapped it with icing sugar, then busted the recipient. Transporting icing sugar, it turns out, is not a crime.
Australian Border Force (ABF) officers intercepted a suspicious package mailed from the UK in 2019 and tipped off police officers, who discovered a hollowed-out book containing 99 grams of cocaine. The clever coppers seized the cocaine, replaced it with icing sugar, and reconstructed the package. It was then delivered as normal, while officers staked out the address.
When Nathan John Ralph showed up to collect the package from a property rented by his father, they surely thought they had hit paydirt. They tailed Ralph for the day, eventually moving in to arrest him outside a supermarket in Adelaide. Ralph fled and hid the package in some bushes, but didn’t get away. Cops slapped cuffs on him and charged him with drug trafficking.
But he got away scot-free. A judge at South Australia’s District Court acquitted Ralph earlier this month, ruling that as “all of the actions alleged against the accused occurred after the substitution of icing sugar for the cocaine,” there was “no case to answer.”
All the accused had done was to store, transport or carry icing sugar, which was self-evidently not an offence
Had the police not swapped the cocaine for sugar, the judge noted, “there would have been a case to answer on the facts.”
If the package had retained the illegal substance, Ralph would have been facing a fine of AU$50,000 to AU$500,000, or 15 years to life behind bars, according to South Australia’s drug trafficking laws. In a bizarre inversion of the norm, Ralph, now a free man, has the police to thank for his freedom.