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Operation Azteca sentencing

12.00am 24 August 2017 | News

Customs and Police note the sentencing today of two men who were charged in relation to New Zealand’s largest-ever seizure of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $14 M.

In May 2016, Customs officers focused on a 400 kg sculpture of a diamante-encrusted horse, which had been air freighted into the country from Mexico. Their suspicions were confirmed when they discovered 35 kg of high-grade cocaine in the horse’s head.

A subsequent joint investigation saw three men arrested, however prosecution only continued with two of them; a 46-year-old Mexican national and a 56-year-old US national.

The 44-year-old was sentenced to 19 years and 9 months imprisonment and the 56-year-old was sentenced to 17 years and 9 months.

Detective Superintendent Greg Williams of the National Organised Crime Group says he hopes today’s sentence sends a strong message to those thinking of preying on our communities with this drug.

“It is very evident from this investigation that there is still a high demand for this drug, and for this reason police will continue to work closely with our partners to target and disrupt these organised criminal groups who obviously do not care at all about the harm drugs do to individuals, families and whanau.”

“We continue to work with our international partners to identify the different methods organised crime groups are using to bring drugs into New Zealand so we can seize it before it gets into our community. This case is a great example of this.”

“Police are also focused on getting help for those with drug addiction and encourage anyone who is concerned for someone they know to contact police or one of the many community support groups available to them for assistance,” says Detective Superintendent Williams.

Customs Group Manager Intelligence, Investigations & Enforcement Jamie Bamford says today’s sentencing ends a long and complex investigation, which began after solid intelligence and profiling work to identify this shipment as a risk even before it arrived.

“This was followed by scrutiny and sheer determination of Customs officers who undertook the examination process. Getting into that horse’s head required meticulous expertise to extract the cocaine and gather evidence against those involved.

“After months of joint investigative work, officers have then shown great resilience throughout the court proceedings. Credit goes to everyone involved with this outcome. There’s real partnership between Customs and Police to tackle drugs from all points – before, at and post the border, to protect New Zealanders from its harm,” Mr Bamford says.