Record bust: 190kg of cocaine found in banana container

Police and Customs officials speaking to media today. Image: NZ Herald
Police and Customs officials speaking to media today. Image: NZ Herald
Police and Customs have found more than 190kg of cocaine in a container of bananas - the largest bust of the drug in New Zealand to date.

Five duffel bags of the Class A drug were found in a container that arrived in Auckland, with an estimated street value of between $28 million to $36 million.

Police said today a joint Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission investigation into an Australian-based organised crime group identified a potential shipment of illicit drugs that left Balboa in Panama on August 4 this year.

On August 20, a container listed as a shipment of bananas arrived in Auckland on a vessel from Balboa.

New Zealand Customs and police staff inspected the container and found the duffel bags on top of the banana boxes - which contained 190 blocks of cocaine, each weighing about a kilogram, that had been wrapped in packaging tape.

The joint investigation concluded in the past day with the arrest of a 41-year-old man from Alford's Point in Sydney.

Detective Inspector Paul Newman, of the National Organised Crime Group, said the seizure was extremely significant for New Zealand and Australia.

"This operation has once again shown our dedication to disrupting organised crime and reducing the devastating harm that drugs cause in our community," he said.

"Both countries are recognised as lucrative markets for the illicit drug trade, which is why we work closely together and share intelligence.

"The cooperation of both law enforcement and intelligence groups during this investigation has been central to its success in targeting transnational crime."

Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry said the seizure and arrests highlight the strong partnership between Australian and New Zealand law enforcement agencies, and their shared focus on disrupting drug smuggling and protecting each other's borders.

"This joint trans-Tasman approach is an important part of Customs' strategy to keep harm offshore, and shows how New Zealand is playing its part internationally through the use of our intelligence and targeting to successfully identify risk."

The AFP said the drugs had been destined for Australia and allege the man was attempting to collect about 57kg of substituted cocaine.

He was taken into custody in the Sydney CBD and surrendered to police following searches of homes in Alford's Point and Wiley Park.

The man appeared in the Sydney Central Local Court today and was due to reappear in January. Police said they were still looking into other possible recipients.

Before a series of large seizures in recent years, New Zealand officers had historically only stopped about 250 grams of cocaine in an average year.

The country was sometimes used as a stop-off for smugglers, rather than a final destination.

This week's bust is a staggering find for police in New Zealand, where a 46kg cocaine seizure in the North Island town of Tauranga last year was the previous largest find.

In 2016, they intercepted 35kg of the drug inside a 400kg, jewel-covered statue of a horse head that had arrived by plane from Mexico.
- NZ Herald and AAP







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