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Cocaine smugglers organising to hit New Zealand

Cocaine smugglers organising to hit New Zealand, says Customs – and ‘swallowing’ a preferred method

A dramatic increase in cocaine smuggling, much of it inside smugglers’ bodies, has hit New Zealand in recent months, says Customs, and it looks like an attempt by figures in South America to establish a syndicate supplying users in this country.

In the latest incident, a Uruguayan woman was intercepted on Friday at Auckland Airport with approximately 800 grams of cocaine concealed in 97 pellets inside her body. She appeared in court last Monday and has been remanded in custody until 5 January.

The Minister of Customs, Maurice Williamson said today that he was deeply concerned at the alarming new trend and that New Zealand Customs was well equipped to fight it

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Caption: A CT scan showing latex pellets found inside a man recently caught by Customs at Auckland International Airport.

“Customs tells me that we are fighting some individuals who could be the vanguard of an organisation looking to re-establish a cocaine market in New Zealand. But I am determined that we will do everything we can to prevent these criminals getting a foothold here, as they have elsewhere,” he said.

More than 10 kilos of cocaine has been intercepted by Customs officers this year, compared to nearly 3 kilos in 2009, and 733 grams in 2008. Customs Group Manager Investigations, Bill Perry said that represented an increase of more than 1,100 percent.

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“And the high purity of the cocaine we’ve seen in recent months means that is likely to be ‘cut’ for street sales and end up as a much greater quantity than was actually smuggled in,” he said. “It’s currently selling to users for around $400 a gram and that 10 kilos we got could well have become as much as 80 kilos by the time it hit the streets.”

Prior to Friday’s arrest, two Argentineans had been detained coming in through Auckland airport, one having swallowed nearly 700 grams of cocaine in 139 pellets.

Comptroller of Customs, Martyn Dunne says officers were on high alert for this and had a very good idea of where the threat is emerging from.

“We’re ready for these people and we’re getting them”, he said.

Big upsurge in smuggling by swallowing – not just cocaine

In only the last three months New Zealand Customs has caught six ‘swallowers’ carrying drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine (‘P’), and opium internally.

Bill Perry said that since November three people were detected carrying cocaine inside them.

“And our intelligence suggests that some others may have got through. But we are getting them and more arrests are in prospect,” he said.

Earlier this year, three men who between them swallowed almost 2.5 kilograms of ‘P’ in an attempt to smuggle it through Auckland Airport, were arrested after Customs officers stopped and searched them.

One of the three was carrying 1.4 kilos inside his body - the biggest single incident of internal concealment New Zealand Customs had seen.

Martyn Dunne said swallowing was an appalling and particularly desperate and dangerous mode of smuggling and demonstrated just how inhuman the trade was.

“Our work in the last few months though, demonstrates that we are well able to detect and catch these mules,” he said.

The fight against ‘P’ continues

“P” and its main precursor, pseudoephedrine (in the form of Chinese cold and flu remedy, Contac NT) is still the biggest drug issue facing New Zealand Customs.

And Comptroller Martyn Dunne says Customs, with the New Zealand Police, is continuing to make a big dent in New Zealand’s ‘P’ market.

“Last year we got over a tonne of pre-cursor and this year we will go close to doing the same. And we know the price that ‘wholesale’ dealers are charging the street dealers for ‘P’ has gone up. So we are having a major impact and clearly supporting the Government’s direction on ‘P’,” he said.


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