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NSW Police bust baby formula theft ring, seize thousands of tins

The leader of a shoplifting syndicate that police allege has stolen $250,000 worth of baby formula has been arrested in Sydney.

Police removed more than 4,000 baby formula tins, multiple boxes of vitamins, Manuka honey and powered toothbrushes from two Carlingford homes yesterday.

Cash totalling more than $215,000 was found hidden throughout one of the homes and is allegedly the proceeds of crime.

Police believe a 48-year-old woman accused of running the network had at least 12 people under her wing sourcing the items — which are all highly sought after in China.

Most baby formula retails in Australia for $20 to $35 dollars a tin but it can sell for more than double that in China.

Chinese parents have sourced safer overseas products after a series of local formula scares in recent years.

Detectives estimate the Sydney group stole more than $250,000 worth of baby formula this year, Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty said.

“It’s one of those unusual cases,” Mr Doherty told Channel 9. “We hear about the thefts as isolated incidents but this time we’ve focused on the syndicate as a receiving group.”

The syndicate’s accused ringleader was bailed on strict conditions ahead of an expected appearance at Burwood Local Court on September 17.

She was charged with knowingly direct activities of criminal group, knowingly participate in criminal group assist crime, three counts of participate criminal group contribute criminal activity, and recklessly deal with proceeds of crime.

A 53-year-old man arrested with the woman on Wednesday evening was released without charge.

Police expect to arrest more members of the network.

Demand for Australia’s baby formula is so extreme many Chinese families employ personal shoppers living in the country, known as “daigou”, to buy and send them tins.

Some of the formula bought by daigou is packaged and sent back home to China while other shoppers advertise online and profit that way.

Daigou have been known to sell tins of baby formula for up to $200 each to desperate buyers, and pocket the hefty profits.

Coles and Woolworths also enforce a rule of two tins per customer at many of their stores.

Reports of baby formula theft have become so common some supermarkets even resorted to keeping tins behind the counter.

In December, Victoria Police cracked a separate black-market baby formula ring, arresting seven people after they found hundreds of tins of milk powder.

Officers raided properties at Richmond, Sunshine and Braybrook in Melbourne on November 30, uncovering more than $300,000 worth of allegedly stolen property including baby formula and beauty products as well as about $500,000 cash.

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