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Joint Police and Customs investigation sees millions of dollars' worth of drugs seized, four charged

10.37am 30 October 2023 | News

Police and Customs have disrupted a $63 million drug importation bound for Aotearoa New Zealand shores and arrested four men, following a joint operation.

The operation, named Blanco, resulted in the seizure of 140 kgs of cocaine at the Ports of Auckland yesterday.

The investigation identified the concerning trend of organised crime groups to aggressively target and attempt to “rip” or take possession of the imported drugs while they are transiting through port or other associated facilities.

This has been a method seen in overseas jurisdictions and is now happening more and more in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The haul was found concealed within a cavity of a container, which is understood to have originated in Ecuador and travelled through Panama to its final destination of Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Detective Inspector Tom Gollan from Police’s National Organised Crime Group said this find and the subsequent investigation resulted in the seizure of the 140 kgs of cocaine and the arrests of the four men in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland yesterday.

“Three of the men were deported back to Aotearoa New Zealand in July and August 2023, and a fourth man is an Australian National who recently entered Aotearoa New Zealand as a visitor.”

During the investigation, a drone the group used for surveillance was recovered during search warrants conducted during the termination phase. Also located were newly purchased angle grinders, and equipment to be used to recover the drugs in the container.

“What was particularly chilling is the discovery of a pistol with a silencer attached, and ammunition, which was found in possession of one of these men.”

“These organised crime groups try all sorts of concealment methods to attempt to beat law enforcement authorities.

“This investigation highlights the extreme lengths this organised criminal enterprise went to to try and avoid detection,” says Detective Inspector Gollan.

All four men have appeared in the Auckland District Court facing charges relating to the importation of cocaine, firearm offences, and participating in an organised crime group.

Police believe this haul of 140 kgs of cocaine was destined for the Aotearoa New Zealand market and had a street value of $63 million. The seizure prevented 1.4 million doses of cocaine getting into the community.

Acting Customs Investigations Manager, Simon Peterson, says the seizure is just one example of what Customs and its partners are dealing with on a regular basis.

“It further demonstrates the constant threat we face at Aotearoa New Zealand’s border from well-funded, sophisticated, and determined transnational organised crime groups,” he says.

“The success in bringing down this smuggling attempt also shows Customs’ commitment and determination, working alongside our Police partners and offshore and industry partners, to disrupt this predatory criminal activity, hit the profits these gangs aim to make from exploiting our communities and play our part in reducing the wide-ranging social harm drugs they cause in our communities.”

As the matter is now before the court, Police and Customs are limited in any further comment.