Mostafa Baluch: Fugitive’s escape plans allegedly included sailing from Wollongong

Australia’s most wanted man has been whisked away from a Gold Coast courthouse to begin his police-escorted journey back to Sydney.

Alleged drug smuggler Mostafa Baluch was led to a NSW Police plane on the Gold Coast wearing shackles and prison greens on Thursday after a magistrate approved his extradition to NSW.

The 33-year-old Sydneysider was on his way back to his hometown on Thursday after his dramatic capture at the NSW-Queensland border the day before.

Baluch, who allegedly cut off his ankle monitor on October 25 and led police on a 16-day manhunt, appeared by speakerphone at the Southport Magistrates Court on Thursday morning.

“Yes, I can hear you,” were Baluch’s only words after he was asked if he was on the line.

Baluch’s lawyer Nicholas Andrews said there were no issues in agreeing to the extradition deal for his client, which will put the alleged smuggler back in Sydney by Thursday afternoon.

Mr Andrews said Baluch was in good spirits but would not answer any further questions about his wellbeing, or his time in custody.

Police drove off with Baluch in the back of the silver Isuzu D-Max at about 2.30pm.

It was believed they were planning to fly him back to Sydney on one of the NSW Police force’s own aeroplanes.

He had arrived in Queensland the night before in another silver car – a Mercedes that was placed inside a shipping container on the back of a truck.

Police officers, who had been tipped off he might be trying to cross the border that way, stopped several trucks before discovering Baluch at about 1am Wednesday.

He is due to appear in Sydney Central Local Court on Friday.

Mr Baluch is the alleged financier behind a 900kg shipment of cocaine into Australia that had a street value of $270m.

Thursday’s court appearance on the Gold Coast follows police allegations 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.

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.

“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 manhunt that has been described as one of Australia’s most intensive.

Police searched high and low for Baluch, checking 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.

Originally published as Mostafa Baluch’s escape plans allegedly included sailing from Wollongong

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