ELEVEN people have been arrested over a shipment of cocaine that arrived at the Port of Tauranga in February.

Authorities intercepted 50 kilograms of cocaine under Operation Reach – a joint investigation between New Zealand Police and New Zealand Customs Service.

Enquiries to date indicate the shipment originated in Brazil and New Zealand was its intended destination.

Detective Inspector Tom Gollan, from NZ Police’s National Organised Crime Group, said four men, aged between 22 and 36, were initially arrested following the discovery.

“Over the following weeks, enquiries into this serious offending have continued, which led to several search warrants being conducted throughout Tamaki Makaurau and Tauranga and a further seven arrests made.”

Included in those arrests were two males, aged 50 and 59, who are both believed to be senior members of a well-known gang.

“During a further search warrant in the Counties Manukau District, a significant number of firearms, including three semi-automatics and two fully automatics rifles, were located and seized,” Detective Inspector Gollan said.

A 50-year-old male was arrested at this address, and on 20 February, Police searched two other properties in Tauranga. Two more men, aged 33 and 37, who are also believed to be members of the same gang were also arrested.

Inspector Gollan said police observed “extensive preparations” being undertaken by the group to recover the cocaine.

“This included the purchase of walkie talkie radios, an army ‘gillie’ suit, bolt cutters, gloves, security branded tee-shirts and high-visibility gear,” he said.

“These methods, combined with the alleged possession of illegal firearms, demonstrates the lengths criminal enterprises are willing to go to avoid detection and import illicit drugs into New Zealand.

“Unfortunately for this group, police, alongside our partner agencies, were five steps ahead.”

All eleven men are facing charges relating to the importation, conspiracy and possession for supply of cocaine.

“Two of the males are also facing charges relating to the possession of firearms, and police are not ruling out further charges as more information comes to light,” Detective Inspector Gollan said.

They are all due to reappear in the Auckland District Court in due course.

Customs Investigations Manager Dominic Adams said New Zealand Customs screens 100% of air and sea cargo shipments, taking a closer look at shipments that raise red flags.

“We also work closely with ports and legitimate supply chain partners to help keep our borders safe and secure,” he said.