Customs seize history making 469kg of meth at NZ border

Newstalk ZB / Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 7 Sep 2019, 2:10PM
The electric motors being examined. Photo / Customs

Customs seize history making 469kg of meth at NZ border

Newstalk ZB / Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 7 Sep 2019, 2:10PM

Three men have appeared in court facing a raft of drugs and weapons charges following the biggest meth bust at New Zealand's border.

Their names have been suppressed so they cannot be identified at this stage.

This morning Customs revealed it had seized about 469kg of methamphetamine stashed inside a shipment of electric motors.

It is Customs' largest ever methamphetamine seizure at the border.

The history-making haul is estimated to have a street value of more than $230 million.

Three men have been arrested and appeared in the Auckland District Court this afternoon.

Further arrests are likely, say authorities.

The men - two Canadian nationals and a New Zealander - appeared before Judge Philippa Cunningham this afternoon.

All three were granted interim name suppression.

The two men from Canada asked the court for time to contact their families and notify them of the charges.

The Kiwi was granted suppression to allow his legal time team to advance a further application for non-publication orders if required.

A 24-year-old Canadian faces two charges - possession of meth for supply and importing meth.

It is alleged he imported the drug into New Zealand via an air freight consignment declared as an electric transformer.

The second Canadian national is a 23-year-old man.

He faces two charges of possession of meth for supply and importing 469kg of methamphetamine into New Zealand by sea cargo, declared as "60 electric motors" in a shipping container.

The third man - a 30-year-old New Zealander - is jointly charged with the 23-year-old on the counts of possession and importation.

He also faces additional charges of unlawfully carrying a firearm - namely a pistol - and unlawful possession of five rounds of ammunition.

All three men were remanded in custody until their next appearance on September 27.

None of the accused entered a plea to the charges.

Methamphetamine is a class A drug, and the importation and possession charges carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Meth-tember: how New Zealand's biggest border bust unfolded

The three men were arrested after an investigation by Customs targeting an overseas criminal syndicate.

Inquiries linked individuals to a New Zealand-based company.

By mid-August, a shipment from Thailand was assessed as high-risk and searched by Customs officers when it arrived at the Ports of Auckland.

The shipping container held 60 electric motors and each motor hid an average of around 8kg of methamphetamine.

The 469kg of methamphetamine has an estimated street value of about $235 million.

In the last day or so about 65 Customs and police staff carried out raids across Auckland and discovered a further 15kg of methamphetamine, a hand gun and a large quantity of cash.

Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry said the seizure was the result of solid intelligence and investigative work maximising Customs' expertise on border movements.

"It's a known international trend for overseas nationals to come into the country just to receive and distribute drug shipments," he said.

"They use storage units or commercial premises and hire homes on Airbnb as part of their illegal activity."

Berry urged owners of storage units and commercial premises, as well as Airbnb operators, to be alert so they did not unwittingly become involved in criminal activity.

"This seizure has disrupted a significant amount of drugs from reaching communities, and has deprived organised crime groups of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of profits," he said.

"Customs will continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies here and offshore, as well as industry partners, individuals and businesses, to target shipments and syndicates."

Detective Superintendent Greg Williams said the seized drugs equated to what would have been at least $235m in revenue to organised crime groups.

"This would have been drawn out of vulnerable communities across New Zealand, going into the pockets of gangs and international syndicates," he said.

"It would have caused $582m worth of social harm to our communities," he said.

Williams said methamphetamine devastated many vulnerable communities while organised crime groups continued to profit.