Rokas Karpavicius. Photo: NZ Herald/Chris Gorman
An international drug kingpin who fled New Zealand while
on bail more than a decade ago has been convicted of smuggling
huge shipments of Ecstasy to an Auckland godfather of crime.
The Herald can also reveal that Rokas Karpavicius was locked
up in Spain on drug trafficking charges while on the run from
New Zealand authorities, but freed for lack of evidence
before he was eventually caught and extradited back to the
other side of world.
Karpavicius is expected to receive another prison sentence
after being found guilty this week of two charges of
importing Ecstasy, a class B drug, inside granite statues
from Europe in 2007.
The twin convictions come after a previous trial last year
where the jury could not make a decision on the smuggling
charges, despite finding the 33-year-old guilty of importing
an LSD-laden Harry Potter book into New Zealand and money
laundering more than $1 million.
As the "mastermind" of a global drug syndicate, Karpavicius
was sentenced to 6 years in prison even though he was
acquitted on conspiracy and other drugs charges.
But neither jury were told it was the second time the
Lithuanian national was at the centre of a New Zealand drug
Suppression orders have been lifted to reveal Karpavicius was
charged with conspiracy to import cocaine in 1999 but escaped
overseas two years later while on bail.
Just 21 at the time, he disappeared on a false passport while
on a $100,000 bond and evaded authorities until his name
resurfaced in Operation Keyboard.
His fingerprints were found on a Harry Potter book couriered
from Spain to Auckland with LSD, a class A drug, hidden in
the spine and drug squad detectives also tapped phone calls
between Karpavicius and Ronald Terrence Brown, a career
criminal who headed the New Zealand arm of the syndicate.
A godfather figure in the underworld, Brown owned an Auckland
nightclub, the K Rd Ball Room, and paid cash for six luxury
cars, including a late model Porsche 911. But he was
imprisoned for 11 years in 2010 after admitting smuggling
Ecstasy, methamphetamine and LSD, and also charges of using a
false passport and laundering more than $4 million.
Brown - who has a long string of convictions - used the false
passport to visit Karpavicius in Spain.
But Karpavicius, who sent the drugs to New Zealand inside
granite sculptures, had yet to be caught. Photos showed him
living in luxury; lounging on a yacht launch in Europe
surrounded by attractive women.
A year later, he was taken into police custody in Latvia as
he travelled to Turkey. A "red notice" posted by Interpol had
alerted border authorities to the serious drugs charges the
fugitive faced in New Zealand. Then late last year, two
detectives from the Organised and Financial Crime Agency New
Zealand flew to Riga, the capital of Latvia, to extradite him
back to Auckland. He refused to talk to them on the 30-hour
flight; apparently concerned that they would match his voice
to the one heard on the bugged conversations.
Wealthy and well-connected, Karpavicius was considered an
extreme flight risk and the trip was planned so the time
spent in transit at each airport was as little as possible to
limit his chances of escape. Authorities in those airports
including Latvia, Germany, London and Hong Kong also declined
to allow the police to place him into holding cells at each
airport. That meant he could not be let out of their sight
for one moment.
Once safely back in New Zealand, Karpavicius retained the
services of experienced barrister Graeme Newell and attempted
to have the case thrown out before trial. The application
failed and Karpavicius elected to not give evidence before
The court heard that Operation Keyboard, led by Detective
Sergeant John Sowter, began in Australia in January 2008 when
Sydney police discovered that a shipment of granite
sculptures sent from Lithuania concealed 28kg of amphetamine.
Further inquiries found a nearly identical shipment to Sydney
in February 2007 and two to New Zealand that same year. All
the containers were sent by the same person, with the same
contact phone number and the same bank account. Money "mules"
sent millions of dollars from Brown to Karpavicius, either
using false names at foreign exchanges or carrying the cash
in their suitcases.
One of the money launderers, Donatas Jukna, was later
arrested at the German border on a "red notice" posted with
Interpol and was extradited back to New Zealand.
The Herald can now reveal that Karpavicius was also the
subject of a separate criminal investigation in Spain at the
same time as Operation Keyboard.
The Spanish inquiry related to the seizure of 360,000
($561,800) from an Irish national, which was believed to be
destined for Karpavicius. He was charged with drug
trafficking, money laundering, criminal association and
The case was later dropped for lack of evidence.
Karpavicius will be sentenced again in August.