Police have arrested a man from north-east Victoria for allegedly sending 38 suspicious parcels to consulates and embassies in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.
The 48-year-old man was arrested at his home in Shepparton on Wednesday night after emergency services spent several hours responding to reports of suspicious packages sent to at least 14 consulates in Melbourne, including those of the UK, US and India.
Authorities are yet to confirm what was in the parcels, but early reports suggested they appeared to contain asbestos.
In a joint statement, the Australian federal police and Victoria police said the man was charged with sending dangerous articles to be carried by a postal service, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years jail under the Criminal Code Act 1995.
The man was scheduled to appear in the Melbourne magistrates court on Thursday.
Police said they had so far recovered 29 of the 38 packages and were undertaking forensic testing to determine what they were carrying.
They said Australia Post has helped halt the remaining parcels.
“Police have identified all intended recipients and have put processes in place to recover the outstanding packages,” the statement said. “There is no ongoing threat to the general public.”
The first parcel was received at the Argentinian consulate in Sydney on Monday and contained powder in clear plastic bags inside an envelope. The powder was deemed not dangerous by New South Wales police.
On Wednesday suspicious packages were received at embassies in Canberra as well as the US, Pakistani, Swiss, Indian, South Korean, New Zealand, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish and Turkish consulates in Melbourne.
At least two consulates in Melbourne did not contact authorities about packages until they received an email from the Australian government.
The Greek consulate general on St Kilda Road and the Pakistan consulate in Albert Park both received suspect packages but did not contact authorities straight away.
Greek vice-consul Georgia Botsiou told SBS Greek radio it had received the package on Friday afternoon.
“Today [Wednesday] we received communication from the diplomatic body here in Victoria that there are suspicious packets circulating and that we should contact the police if we’ve received something and we have contacted the police,” Botsiou said, translated from Greek.
“It didn’t have a return address, written on the top was ‘samples’ and because it didn’t have a return address and without it having a note inside, we thought it was suspicious and because of that, we isolated it from the start.”
The Pakistani consulate was delivered a package at 10am on Wednesday morning but contacted authorities only when prompted by an email from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Age reported.
DFAT told AAP it had sent an email to all Canberra diplomatic missions on Tuesday.
“After learning of incidents at three offices in Sydney and Canberra, DFAT sent a note to all diplomatic missions in Canberra on January 8 alerting them to the possibility of suspicious packages being delivered by mail,” a spokesman said.
“Similar advice was subsequently provided to consulates around Australia.”
• Australian Associated Press contributed to this report