May 27, 2019 15:32

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Men in court charged with importing 110kg of methamphetamine worth $55m

16:08 | 13/03/2019

Two men are facing charges relating to the seizure of 110 kilograms of methamphetamine with a street value of $55 million, along with two handguns.

Customs seized the drugs and guns in January and arrested the men – a 39-year-old Taiwanese national and a 27-year-old Chinese national – on the weekend.

They appeared in the Auckland District Court on Monday.

Judge Philippa Cunningham granted the men interim name suppression at least until they appeared again in court again next week.

The 39 year-old did not speak English and there was no interpreter available.

Judge Cunningham ruled that although the man was physically in court, he had no ability to understand what was going on.

The court heard the 27 year-old had two elderly grandmothers living in China. One had leukemia and the other was aged in her 90s. Both grandmothers were yet to be told of their grandson's serious charges.

The two men were remanded in custody and were due back in court next Monday when the order would be reviewed.

Judge Cunningham ordered that an interpreter be available on that date for the 39 year-old and urged the 27-year-old's father to alert the elderly members of the family.

Both men have pleaded not guilty through their lawyers and elected trial by jury.

men in court charged with importing 110kg of methamphetamine worth 55m
Customs seized 110 kilograms of methamphetamine and two handguns at the border in January

The huge bust was one of the largest-ever made by Customs, which estimate the drugs would have caused $136.3 million of "social harm" to New Zealand.

Customs NZ said officers inspected a shipping container of three six-seater golf carts, exported from the United States of America, in January.

On closer inspection, officers discovered the batteries were hiding large, "ice-like" methamphetamine crystals and two handguns.

With police, Customs carried out further investigations and search warrants at residential addresses in south and West Auckland over the weekend.

These searches resulted in the two men's arrest.

men in court charged with importing 110kg of methamphetamine worth 55m
The presence of the loaded handguns was a "very real concern", Customs said

They are facing charges of importation and possession of a class A controlled drug.

Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry said the operation was the direct result of some very good intelligence and inspections work by staff.

"The presence of loaded firearms concealed with the drugs is a very real concern and shows the lengths organised crime groups are prepared to go to. It also represents a changing risk profile to both our officers and the community at large," Berry said.

He added it was the first time in 30 years he had seen firearms concealed with drugs – a development he termed "very frightening".

"This shows a changing risk demographic, not only to New Zealand communities but also to the officers involved in drug smuggling investigations."

The concealment was "particularly sophisticated", Berry said – the batteries were lead-lined and had "all the sells of working batteries", including an electrical charge.

In 2018 and 2019 so far, Berry said Customs had seized more than 343kg of drugs offshore which were destined for the New Zealand market.

More than 300kg of drugs had been seized at New Zealand's borders.

"The strategy is proving effective and seizures and interceptions of this nature are continuing to show that effectiveness."

men in court charged with importing 110kg of methamphetamine worth 55m
The meth was hidden inside golf cart batteries

Berry said Customs had located the drugs by identifying people of interest.

"Through intelligence, we were able to build up a picture of their networks and also the shipment that was destined for New Zealand. We knew there was something wrong with it but it took quite a bit to find this concealment."

Berry said supply was driven by demand and there would be a domestic network connection in New Zealand, likely gangs.

"Our investigations into that [are] ongoing."

It was likely the drugs had originated from Mexico, Berry said.

He said the drugs were very pure and although not yet tested, he expected the purity to be about 90 per cent.

Detective Inspector Paul Newman from the National Organised Crime Group said the arrests were an "excellent" example of police and Customs working together to prevent the harm caused by drugs.

"These illegal drugs are destructive and have no place in our communities. We know they cause negative health implications, and financial and social harm to users and their families.

"We are focused on and dedicated to disrupting the production, smuggling and distribution of methamphetamine, and we think this is a great result," Detective Inspector Newman said.

Source: stuff.co.nz