New Zealand seizes 3.5 tons of cocaine in nation’s largest bust
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New Zealand authorities have seized more than three tonnes of cocaine, which was wrapped in 81 balloons and stored on a floating transit point in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in the largest single drug seizure in the country’s history.
The cache, estimated to be worth $315 million, is large enough to supply the Australian market for a year and the New Zealand market for three decades, New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told reporters on Wednesday. The cocaine — which weighed 3.2 metric tons, or 3.5 tons in the United States — came from South America and was bound for Australia, police said.
The package of cocaine was “placed in nets” with flotation devices. The design is not unusual, Greg Williams, a senior detective with the New Zealand police, told reporters. “There are many ways in which organized crime will want to get its product into our country,” Williams said. This includes flying drugs on planes, sending them by post, sending them by sea or carrying them by hand in suitcases. “And this is just one of those ways.”
The packages of cocaine were affixed with the Batman logo and images of a black four-leaf clover. The symbols represent the logos of drug manufacturers, Williams said.
“These are their trademark logos,” he said. “In the underworld, it’s like ‘here’s my mark, you can trust me’.”
New Zealand authorities refused to disclose operational details of the seizure, including how they found the drugs. But they said New Zealand partners from the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Group – which also includes agencies from Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States – provided assistance. No arrests have been made, police said.
The New Zealand Navy and Customs Service worked with the country’s police to seize the drugs and send them on a six-day journey to New Zealand, where they will be incinerated. The discovery was made as part of Operation Hydros, which began in December and aims to “monitor the movements of suspicious vessels”, New Zealand police said in a press release.
How do illegal drugs get into remote Australia? Check with the flight attendants.
The country’s previous largest illegal drug bust came in March of last year when authorities seized a shipment of 700 kilograms, or 1,540 pounds, of cocaine, worth an estimated $177 million. Two weeks ago, officials found 613 kilograms, or about 1,350 pounds, of methamphetamine, worth about $155 million.
Alcohol and tobacco are the drugs that cause the most harm to the general public in New Zealand, according to the NZ Drug Foundation, a charity group in Wellington. Among illegal drugs, cannabis and meth are the most frequently seized by police, while the amount of MDMA, or ecstasy, seized by police has more than doubled since 2017, according to the report. Cocaine, on the other hand, is consumed in “low quantities” in New Zealand compared to other countries, the report said.