Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Australian police said Saturday they uncovered a Melbourne-based criminal syndicate after a plane loaded with more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine crashed in Papua New Guinea.
The plane crashed Sunday shortly after taking off en route to Australia. Police charged alleged members of a syndicate they said conspired to transport cocaine between the two countries.
"Greed played a significant part in the syndicate's activities," the Australian Federal Police said in a statement, adding that it "cannot rule out that the weight of the cocaine had an impact on the plane's ability to takeoff."
The plane was found empty Monday near Papa Lea Lea, about 19 miles northwest of Papua New Guinea's capital Port Moresby, with its pilot missing. On Tuesday, the pilot presented himself to the Australia Consulate in Papua New Guinea and he was arrested and charged, the AFP statement said.
With the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary conducting ongoing investigation throughout the week, by late Friday, the national police force found 28 bags containing more than 1,000 pounds of cocaine alleged to be linked to the flight, Australian Federal Police said in the statement.
The AFP, working with Queensland and Victoria Police, Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, and the national police force, has charged five men linked to the incident, who could all face life imprisonment, according to the statement.
Police said the five men were arrested in Queensland and Victoria on Sunday, on allegations that they intended to carry out the importation and collection of cocaine from Papua New Guinea estimated to be worth more than $80 million.
The multi-agency investigation took nearly two years, according to AFP Deputy Commissioner for investigations Ian McCartney.
"These arrests prove no matter how sophisticated or opportunistic organized crime's attempts are, or the methods they use, law enforcement is keeping pace and causing maximum damage to these criminal ventures," McCartney said.