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Transtasman Teamwork Sinks Major Cocaine Syndicate

For immediate release 26 October 2006


Trans-Tasman Teamwork Sinks Major Cocaine Syndicate

An anti-drug operation spanning New Zealand and Australia yesterday resulted in the arrest of two men for conspiring to smuggle approximately 27 kilograms of cocaine on board two cargo ships bound for Australia.

Thanks to an earlier drug seizure by the New Zealand Customs Service, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), NSW Police and Australian Customs yesterday swooped on a number of locations in Sydney and on the Central Coast. They arrested a 66-year-old man and a 28-year-old man at their respective homes in connection with the drugs, which have a street value in New Zealand of around $9.45 million.

The arrests in Australia and seizure of 27 kilograms of the drug in New Zealand have been hailed as another example of the close cooperation between both countries' border and law enforcement agencies.

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 vessel MV Tampa as it arrived in Auckland Harbour. The vessel was bound for Australia.

New Zealand Customs Service Group Manager, Investigations and Response, Paul Campbell, said the drugs and the metal pod containing them were removed by New Zealand Customs Service officers from the MV Tampa before it left Auckland, and information passed on to the AFP.

"Australian Customs and the NSW Police Special Crime Unit monitored the MV Tampa as it passed through Australian waters in July and the AFP identified a number of persons of interest," he said.

"New Zealand Customs Service officers then searched a second 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."

Mr Campbell said New Zealand and Australian authorities believed the drugs were destined for the Australian market. Mr Campbell also acknowledged the cooperation extended to authorities by the shipping company and said there was nothing to suggest any involvement by the company or crew.

This led to a major intelligence and surveillance operation involving the AFP, Australian Customs, NSW Police, Victoria Police, Queensland Police and WA Police.

The MV Taronga sailed from Auckland to Brisbane, before arriving in Sydney’s Darling Harbour on Thursday, 5 October. The same persons of interest identified during the MV Tampa’s journey were seen observing the MV Taronga in Sydney.

AFP National Manager Border and International Network, Tim Morris, said inquiries were continuing with international law enforcement partners in New Zealand and South America to determine the origin of the drugs.

“This joint operation has meant a significant amount of a dangerous drug will not reach the streets, and it has disrupted a sophisticated and well-resourced criminal enterprise,” Federal Agent Morris said.

Australian Customs Deputy Chief Executive John Drury said this was an excellent example of how important it was for international law enforcement agencies to work together to combat transnational crime.

“An operation of this scale, stretching from New Zealand to Australia, required considerable resources and assets from several state police agencies, and both Customs agencies,” Mr Drury said.

Mr Campbell said the New Zealand Customs Service has a long-established post in Sydney to deal with trans-Tasman issues.

"This operation has shown how invaluable this position is," he said.

The 66-year-old man is expected to face Wyong Local Court today, while the 28-year-old man is set to appear before Sydney Central Local Court.

They were each charged with one count of attempting to import a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug and conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug under the Criminal Code Act 1995.

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

ENDS

Images

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

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