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Praise for Customs Officers in Major Drug Seizure

For immediate release 26 October 2006


Praise for Customs Officers in Major Trans-Tasman Drug Seizure

An anti-drug operation that started in New Zealand and culminated in Australia has today resulted in the arrest of two people for allegedly trying to smuggle around 27 kilograms of cocaine on board two cargo ships bound for Australia. The drugs have a street value of approximately NZ$ 9.45 million.

Comptroller of Customs, Martyn Dunne, said the arrests in Australia and seizure of the drugs in New Zealand is another example of the close cooperation between both countries' border and law enforcement agencies.

"The success of this operation is down to the cooperation between officers from the New Zealand Customs Service, the New Zealand Police, the Australian Customs Service and the Australian Federal Police. Their willingness to work together sharing information and expertise from the time the drugs were first seized has led to these arrests. They have done a truly excellent and thorough job," he said.

Mr Dunne offered his congratulations to all New Zealand Customs Service Staff involved in the operation and in particular, James McKone, the New Zealand Customs Service Sydney Liaison Officer. This post was established more than 25 years ago to deal with trans-Tasman customs issues including law enforcement and investigations and Mr Dunne said the recent arrest has shown how invaluable this position is.

He also acknowledged the operational support provided to Customs by the Fire Service and Royal New Zealand Navy divers.

Customs Minister Nanaia Mahuta also praised to the Customs officers involved, saying this excellent outcome was the result of hard work and smart thinking.

"I personally congratulate all the men and women, both in New Zealand and in Australia, for all their efforts in helping to stop these insidious and dangerous drugs from getting into our countries and out into our communities," Ms Mahuta said.

"Our relationship with Australia is important. Australia is our largest trading partner and generally our closest ally. New Zealand and Australia often work closely together on a broad range of trade and security issues and this is a great example of how this relationship is working to protect both our borders," she said.

The operation began in June this year when New Zealand Customs Service officers recovered 18.3 kilograms of cocaine concealed on the exterior of the ship MV Tampa as it arrived in Auckland Harbour.

New Zealand Customs Service officers removed the drugs and the metal pod they were concealed in from the MV Tampa before it left Auckland and passed the information on to Australian authorities.

Australian Customs monitored the MV Tampa as it passed through Australian waters in July and the Australian Federal Police identified a number of persons of interest.

New Zealand Customs Service then searched a second container ship, the MV Taronga, when it berthed in Auckland in late September. They found 8.7 kilograms of cocaine concealed in the same manner as the earlier shipment.

The 8.7 kilograms of cocaine found on the MV Taronga was substituted with an inert substance and reattached to the ship by New Zealand Customs Service as part of a major intelligence and surveillance operation involving the AFP, Australian Customs, Victoria Police, Queensland Police and Western Australia Police.

Mr Campbell acknowledged the cooperation extended to New Zealand Customs Service by the shipping company and said there was nothing to suggest any involvement by the company or crew.

New Zealand and Australian authorities believed the drugs were destined for the Australian market and enquiries are ongoing with international law enforcement parties in South America to determine the origin of the drugs.

One man is expected to appear before Wyong Local Court today, while the other is set to appear before Sydney Central Local Court.

They were each charged with one count of attempting to import commercial quantities of border controlled drugs, and conspiracy to import commercial quantities of border controlled drugs under the Criminal Code Act 1995.

The maximum penalty for drug smuggling offences in Australia is $825,000 and/or life imprisonment.

ENDS

Images are available on the Media Centre on Customs website: www.customs.govt.nz.

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