Australia charges man over suspicious foreign mission parcels

Savas Avan, 49, is accused of sending as many as 38 parcels containing asbestos to foreign missions across Australia.

    A firefighter carries a hazardous material bag into a consulate in Melbourne on Wednesday after suspicious packages were sent to foreign missions around the city [James Ross/AAP Image via AP]
    A firefighter carries a hazardous material bag into a consulate in Melbourne on Wednesday after suspicious packages were sent to foreign missions around the city [James Ross/AAP Image via AP]

    Police in Australia have charged a 49-year-old man for sending as many as 38 packages containing a hazardous material to diplomatic embassies and consulates across the country.

    More than a dozen foreign missions received suspicious packages on Wednesday, including the consulates of the United States and the United Kingdom in Melbourne, Australia's second-biggest city.

    The man, named as Savas Avan, was charged with sending dangerous articles through a postal service, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said in a statement on Thursday.

    "The maximum penalty for the offence the man has been charged with is 10 years imprisonment," the statement added.

    The packages contained asbestos, once a popular building material that can cause cancer and scarring of the lungs.

    Police, who have recovered 29 of the parcels, said they would intercept the rest. They gave no additional details of how the asbestos was packaged or what the motive might have been.

    Australian media on Wednesday said the parcels appeared to contain plastic bags of concrete and asbestos, with "asbestos" written on at least one of the bags.

    "There is no ongoing threat to the general public," police said.

    The other missions in Melbourne that reportedly received suspicious packages included those of Denmark, Egypt, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Pakistan, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand. The reports could not be independently verified.

    Avan will next appear in court in March.

    Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it had sent an email to all diplomatic missions in Canberra this week, after three offices in the capital and Sydney received suspicious packages.

    It subsequently sent similar advice to missions elsewhere.

    "The note advised missions to handle mail in accordance with their own government's protocols and instructions," a DFAT spokesperson said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies