Police allege a group of baggage handlers at Auckland Airport have or have conspired to smuggle 500 kilograms of methamphetamine into New Zealand this year alone.
More than a dozen people are due to appear in court today after a joint police and customs operation, named Operation Selena, which investigated drug smuggling at the international airport.
It began after suspicious activity by baggage handlers at Auckland Airport was detected.
Police searched 20 properties across the city this morning, finding more than $500,000, along with a revolver and an air pistol.
Twelve men and two women are jointly charged with importing hundreds of kilograms of methamphetamine into New Zealand from Malaysia and the United States between January and November.
Among those charged are two members of the King Cobras gang, who police said were associates to the baggage handlers.
"The amount of methamphetamine this group of offenders have smuggled, or were conspiring to bring into New Zealand through their brazen actions at the airport, was enormous and continues to have a devastating and immeasurable impact on the community," said Detective Inspector Paul Newman from the National Organised Crime Unit.
"This investigation has again shown us that Organised Crime is resilient, resourceful and looking for ways to corrupt systems and people at the border.
"The arrests today will close that door and send a message to those who want to work with these criminals - it is just not worth it."
It's believed the group has or have conspired to smuggle close to 500kgs of methamphetamine into New Zealand. Photo / NZ Police
The group face a string of charges, including participating in an organised crime group, importing and conspiring to import, and supplying and possessing the class A drug.
The defendants are aged between 18 and 43 years old, and lived in a range of properties across Auckland including Whitford, New Lynn, Lynfield, Māngere, Manurewa and Mt Wellington.
"Their motivation is purely profit, and criminal groups will exploit people working in the supply chain and subvert it for their own financial gain," said Customs manager Bruce Berry.
A number of people from the alleged organised crime group have been charged with the import, possession and supply of at least 118kg of methamphetamine from Malaysia on July 31 and 113kg on June 9.
The group was also allegedly involved in the failed attempt to smuggle 200kg of methamphetamine destined for New Zealand that was intercepted at the Malaysian border last month.
"Four people were arrested in Malaysia in the days after that," police said.
"The investigation uncovered that baggage handlers at Auckland Airport were allegedly preparing to receive the shipment from Kuala Lumpur before it was intercepted by Malaysian authorities.
"The ongoing investigation has also uncovered that the baggage handlers allegedly received over 250kg of methamphetamine smuggled into New Zealand over the past 10 months."
Five people allegedly imported at least 10kg of methamphetamine from Los Angeles on July 12.
One man also faces a charge of selling "at least 100 pounds" worth of cannabis between December 2020 and this month.
Others are accused of having cash with the intent to launder money.
A 31-year-old allegedly engaged in a money laundering transaction of $25,000.
Some charges hold a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The group is scheduled to appear in Auckland District Court today.
Inquiries are ongoing and police said they are unable to rule out further arrests.
On Saturday nine people appeared in court after a joint police and customs operation in Northland.
It uncovered more than $8m worth of drugs, including 17kg of methamphetamine.