Olympic Kayaker Convicted of Smuggling $150M in Cocaine

cocaine bust
Anthony Draper (left) and Dru Baggaley (right) with the alleged cargo (Queensland Water Police)

Published Apr 1, 2021 10:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Australian kayaking champion Nathan Baggaley and his brother, Dru Baggaley, have been convicted of attempting to smuggle 650 kilograms of cocaine into Australia by boat. 

Nathan Baggaley is a three-time world champion in the 1,500 meter sprint canoe (kayak) event and a two-time silver Olympic medalist. He has not competed since 2005, when he tested positive for steroids and was banned from the sport. 

In May 2018, Nathan bought a RHIB for about $80,000. On July 31, his brother Dru and a third man, Anthony Draper, launched the RHIB and met up with a 180-foot vessel off the coast of Queensland. According to prosecutors, they accepted a consignment of 650 kilos of cocaine from personnel aboard the larger vessel, and proceeded to bring it on board. 

The rendezvous was detected by Australian authorities, and a Royal Australian Navy small boat team moved in to interdict the RHIB. Dru allegedly threw the cocaine over the side while fleeing from the authorities, and the navy pursuit boat gave up the chase to recover the bales from the water. A Queensland Water Police boat intercepted Dru and Draper's boat as they neared shore; Nathan Baggaley was allegedly waiting for them at the boat ramp.

Meanwhile, the navy pursuit team pulled about 600 kilos of product out of the water, and testing found that it was 76 percent pure. Additional bales continued to wash up on Queensland's beaches for months, and some or all of the passersby who encountered the jettisoned cargo (worth $200,000 per kilo) reported it to the authorities for destruction. If sold in Australia, which has some of the world's highest cocaine prices, the 650-kilo shipment would have fetched as much as $150 million. 

Nathan and Dru Baggaley were arrested and charged with aiding or abetting the importation of a commercial quantity of border controlled drug. Draper testified against them in exchange for a reduced sentence. 

The brothers denied wrongdoing and maintained their innocence throughout the trial. Nathan told investigators that he had purchased the boat to start a whale-watching business with his brother, not to get involved in a drug-running scheme, and Dru claimed that Draper had coerced him into joining the rendezvous voyage. 

On Thursday, a jury found both brothers guilty of the charges. Sentencing is scheduled for later this month. 

Nathan and Dru were first charged with a drug-related crime in 2007, when authorities accused them of involvement in the manufacture and distribution of the party drug ecstasy (MDMA). Queensland police asserted that they had seized nearly 30,000 MDMA pills and a kilo of MDMA powder from their possession over the course of a four-month investigation; the brothers ultimately pleaded guilty to lesser charges in 2009.

Nathan was arrested again in 2013 on charges of attempting to import the illegal psychedelic drug 2C-B, and he pleaded guilty a second time.