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$20 M cocaine interception in Tauranga

03.42pm 01 November 2017 | News

A five-month Customs and Police investigation has led to the arrest of four foreign nationals after an estimated 46 kg of cocaine, with a street value of around NZ$20 M ($450 per gram), was seized from an address in Tauranga early this morning.

Customs commenced the operation after an investigation into smaller methamphetamine seizures, resulting in several arrests, identified persons of interest believed to be involved in smuggling and distributing Class A drugs and money laundering.

Customs joined forces with Police to build intelligence and carry out investigative work, establishing that a cocaine shipment would be offloaded from a commercial ship near Tauranga.

The ship arrived from Chile late on Tuesday 31 October, and the syndicate approached the vessel under the cover of darkness, retrieving the cocaine from a hidden compartment on the exterior of the hull.

Search warrants executed in Tauranga, Mt Maunganui and residential addresses in Auckland early this morning culminated in arrests. Two Australian men and a Croatian aged in their mid-forties, and one Serbian national in his mid-thirties, are scheduled to appear in the Tauranga District Court this afternoon, November 1, on charges relating to importing the cocaine and possessing the drug for supply.

A further 5 kg of cocaine and a kilogram of methamphetamine was located in an Onehunga address along with a large amount of cash. Inquiries have linked this to an alleged previous importation, which included a further 30 kg of cocaine. As a result, the two Australian and the Croatian nationals will face additional charges relating to this.

Customs Group Manager Intelligence, Investigations & Enforcement Jamie Bamford says this investigation reaffirms the value of intelligence and partnerships in piecing together information to dismantle a criminal enterprise.

“New Zealand is being targeted by international crime syndicates as a market for cocaine. Our intelligence suggests an increase in demand and use, and this goes hand-in-hand with the increase in seizures we’re making at the border.”

“Customs focuses on the maritime border, and our regional ports. This outcome couldn’t have been achieved without our partnership with Police and the determination and skill of our officers.”

Police Assistant Commissioner: Investigations, Richard Chambers, says today’s seizure is hugely significant.

“This has arrested and dismantled a trans-national crime syndicate attempting to profit from a drug that would have caused a great deal of harm within our communities,” he says.

Assistant Commissioner Chambers says that this is the largest single seizure of cocaine in New Zealand, and that the shipment was destined for New Zealand.

“During the course of the inquiry evidence has also been uncovered of a sophisticated money laundering operation sending hundreds of thousands of dollars out of New Zealand through international criminal money remitters. Inquiries continue and I am confident that further arrests will be made as evidence is uncovered, assessed and actioned.

“This operation is another good example of the close working relationship we have with Customs, our international law enforcement partners, and the whole-of-Government approach to making our communities safe.”