FOUR men, including an Australian national, were charged after NZ authorities seized 140 kilograms of cocaine at Ports of Auckland on the weekend.
The haul was found in the cavity of a container, believed to have been shipped from Ecuador to New Zealand via Panama.
Searches carried out under Operation Blanco, a joint investigation between New Zealand Police and Customs, uncovered angle grinders and equipment that would be used to recover the drugs in the container.
Authorities estimate the cocaine haul had a “street value” of NZ$63 million (around $57 million).
The four men appeared in the Auckland District Court facing charges relating to the importation of cocaine, firearm offences and participating in an organised crime group.
Authorities said there is a “concerning trend” of organised crime groups aggressively targeting and attempting to take possession of imported drugs while they are transiting through ports and other facilities.
They said the method is now happening more frequently in New Zealand.
Detective Inspector Tom Gollan from Police’s National Organised Crime Group said three of the men were deported back to New Zealand in July and August 2023, and the fourth man is an Australian national who recently entered New Zealand as a visitor.
“What was particularly chilling is the discovery of a pistol with a silencer attached, and ammunition, which was found in possession of one of these men,” he said.
“These organised crime groups try all sorts of concealment methods to attempt to beat law enforcement authorities.
“This investigation highlights the extreme lengths this organised criminal enterprise went to to try and avoid detection.”
Acting customs investigations manager Simon Peterson said the seizure was an example of what Customs and its partners deal with on a regular basis.
“It further demonstrates the constant threat we face at Aotearoa New Zealand’s border from well-funded, sophisticated, and determined transnational organised crime groups,” he said.