POLICE have landed New Zealand's biggest ever cocaine bust - uncovering $14 million worth of the Class A drug.
A joint Customs and Police investigation revealed 35 bricks of high-grade cocaine - smuggled into the country in a 400 kg diamante-encrusted horse sculpture, which had been freighted from Mexico.
Officers found the drugs inside the horse's head in May leading to the arrest last night of two men at Auckland International Airport. Police are searching for a third man and are today carrying out a search warrant at a west Auckland address. Police in Christchurch are also carrying out search warrants at two residential address in Linwood, and two men and a woman are speaking with Police.
"This is obviously an extremely large amount of cocaine, and in the past we've only found very small amounts of this drug," Detective Senior Sergeant Colin Parmenter, Officer in Charge, Organised Crime Auckland said.
"Prior to this, the average amount of cocaine seized by Police each year was around 250 grams. What this find tells us though is that there is obviously a demand for it.
"While it's possible that this statue may have been sent on to another country, there's every possibility that the cocaine was destined for the New Zealand market and we would be naïve to think otherwise."
The men in custody, a 44 year-old Mexican national and a 56 year-old US national, will appear in the Manukau District Court today.
They are charged with importing a Class A drug, namely cocaine, and possession for supply of a class A drug, namely cocaine.
Customs Investigations Manager Maurice O'Brien says Customs has an intelligence-led and risk-based approach at the border, and the seizure is the result of good profiling systems and inspection capabilities.
The joint operation with police and international engagement with other law enforcement agencies proved its worth in advancing the investigation.
"We maintain strong relationships with offshore border partners to share information about illicit trade as they move around the globe," Mr O'Brien said.
"It takes an international enforcement network to disrupt a transnational crime syndicate. This seizure shows our systems are working well regardless of the type of drug or commodity."
Police are not ruling out further arrests as the investigation continues.
Importing the class A drug cocaine is punishable by life imprisonment.
- NZ Herald
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