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Australian 'drug lords' hide in South America
By Kara Lawrence - October 17, 2005


One Kilo Block of Cocaine
SOUTH America has become the focus of the hunt for one of two Sydney cocaine kingpins believed to have fled the country. Investigators believe Les Mara - one of the principals of a plot to smuggle in 20kg of cocaine through Sydney airport early this year - is hiding in Rio de Janeiro.

Mara, 52, and Michael Hurley, 58, are understood to have fled after being tipped off to operation Mocha, a week before the May raids which resulted in 11 arrests.

Both allegedly were kingpins in the conspiracy to smuggle the cocaine from Buenos Aires with the assistance of corrupt baggage handlers at Sydney airport.

The Daily Telegraph understands that in the months before the arrests both Mara and Hurley were moving between hotels in the Sydney CBD and inner west.

Investigations have revealed Mara has a long-term connection to the Brazilian capital, having visited on many occasions. A woman with whom he had a serious relationship lives in Rio and she may be willing to help him, sources said.

Both he and Hurley are believed to be travelling on false passports.

Sydney associates of Mara, whose practice of counter-surveillance methods borders on the obsessive, said Rio was the most likely hiding place.

Meanwhile, Ireland has emerged as a possible location for Hurley.

Hurley, who had a tumour removed from his spine last year, was receiving radiation treatment before leaving Sydney and had difficulty walking.

He would need to be close to specialist medical treatment, which could be found cheaply in Thailand, visited by Hurley last year.

However, associates have told how he spoke of his fondness for Ireland. "He has said he would live there if he could, or had to," one source said.

Of the pair, Hurley is viewed as the most likely to return to Australia voluntarily due to his ill health.

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