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The man in the balaclava finishes scanning the Melbourne townhouse for listening devices.

There’s a knock at the door. In walks a hulking figure wearing a ski mask, sunglasses and a camouflage raincoat.

Jason* unzips his bag, takes out the corner of a cocaine brick and sits it on a dinner plate.

The crumbly white rock is worth roughly $50,000.

The smell of fumes drifts across the room — a by-product of the petrol used to process it.

“We’ve sold to football players, professional athletes, lawyers, celebrities on TV, people in the media … surgeons, doctors, nurses,” he says.

It’s so ubiquitous, even those meant to be upholding the law are using cocaine.

″​​I’ve personally seen judges take it with a glass of single malt.”

Jason is a trafficker operating at the highest levels of organised crime. He deals kilos of cocaine a week. He’s never been caught.

The high-grade cocaine sitting next to him could be sold on the streets for up to $600 per gram — six times what he paid for it wholesale.

He’s in a lucrative market. Australians are the highest per capita users of cocaine in the world – 4.2 per cent of Australians aged 14 and over used cocaine in 2019 – and as an island nation, pay some of the highest prices globally.

We’re in the middle of an unprecedented cocaine boom. In just the four months between November and February, authorities seized almost 7.5 tonnes of cocaine destined for our streets.

That’s 3 tonnes more than the previous annual record for cocaine seizures in Australia.

To understand how this shadow economy works, Four Corners met with people across the cocaine supply chain, from street dealers all the way to the highest-level operators like Jason. They reveal a world of big money and big risk, power and paranoia.

Verifying what they say is hard, but what they describe stacks up with the public record and what people in the underworld have told the ABC.

For some, this is breaking a code of silence in an industry regulated by violence.

The street dealer

In Australia, the dealers selling to consumers are generally operating at the bottom of the supply chain.

One of these street dealers agrees to meet at an apartment complex in west Melbourne. He comes to the door wearing a mask and never removes it.

“This is just one of my three stash houses,” the dealer says. “We’re just waiting for my main supplier to come and drop off what I need.”

Over an encrypted app, he places an order for four ounces of cocaine. He then posts on Snapchat, Wickr and Signal, letting his customers know he’s “on for the week”.

The dealer is a solo operator, running cocaine direct to consumers and supplying other dealers with diluted or “cut” product.

He works with a couple of different mid-tier drug traffickers who claim to be associated with outlaw motorcycle clubs.

“When I was young, I grew up in housing commission and I saw dealing as like a way out. I saw my mates doing it, and how they started making money fast, buying cars, and nice clothes and stuff. I thought, ‘F*** if these guys can do it, why not me?’”

While he waits for his order to be dropped off, he prepares “cutters” — fake cocaine that he uses to dilute the drug and “rip off” clients.

The dealer crushes Panadol into a fine powder before spraying it with hairspray until it forms clumps. He then wraps it in plastic film and compresses the powder with the bottom of a perfume bottle.

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