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NZ Customs, Police intercept cocaine worth NZ$20m

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Update: 3:44PM TAURANGA, Bay of Plenty: FOUR foreign nationals, including two Australians, a Croatian and a Serbian have been arrested in relation to the seizure of more than 40kg of cocaine, with a street value of NZ$20million (approximately FJD$28.6m).

This seizure, Police say is the largest single seizure of cocaine in New Zealand and that the shipment was destined for the country.

New Zealand Customs and Police made the successful arrest at an address in Tauranga - Bay of Plenty region in North Island - after a five-month long investigation.

A statement from NZ Police stated that an estimated 46kg of cocaine was intercepted from the location early this morning.

Customs had 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.

The institution then 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.

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

It said search warrants executed in Tauranga, Mt Manganui and residential addresses in Auckland early this morning culminated in arrests.

Two Australian men and a Croatian aged in their mid-40s, and one Serbian national in his mid-30s, are scheduled to appear in the Tauranga District Court later this afternoon on charges relating to importing the cocaine and possessing the drug for supply. 

Police said a further 5kg of cocaine and 1kg of methamphetamine was located in an Onehunga address along with a large amount of cash.  

It said that inquiries had linked this to an alleged previous importation that 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 and Enforcement Jamie Bamford said this investigation reaffirmed 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," Mr Bamford said.

"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 said today's seizure was hugely significant.

"These arrests have dismantled a trans-national crime syndicate attempting to profit from a drug that would have caused a great deal of harm within our communities," Mr Chambers said.

"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 combating drug-related harm in our communities."

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