INDEPENDENT NEWS

50 Kilograms Of Cocaine Seized, 9 Arrests In Operation Mist

Published: Thu 11 Nov 2021 01:49 PM
National Organised Crime Group Director Detective Superintendent Greg Williams and New Zealand Customs Service Manager
Intelligence Bruce Berry:
A 10 month operation targeting the importation, sale and supply of cocaine
and associated money laundering activities has seen 50 kilograms of cocaine
seized in New Zealand and overseas.
While Operation Mist has been running for the last 10 months we believe the
group have been operating in New Zealand for about two years.
Yesterday eight people, including six Colombian nationals and one Argentinian
national, were arrested following six search warrants in Canterbury.
Another person was arrested following three search warrants in Auckland. In
total, more than 60 charges have been filed relating to cocaine importation
and supply, participating in an organised criminal group, and money
laundering.
The two people arrested yesterday have appeared in the Christchurch District
Court, and the remainder are appearing today. Further arrests are expected.
The joint investigation has involved nearly 70 New Zealand Police and New
Zealand Customs Service staff from several workgroups including the South
Island Customs Investigation Team, National Organised Crime Group, Asset
Recovery Unit and High-Tech Crime Group, supported by Police and Customs
international liaison networks. Teams worked alongside international partners
United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Colombian National
Police, Spanish Customs Service and the Cook Island Customs Service.
Operation Mist has delivered a massive blow to an organised crime syndicate
operating in Christchurch and overseas, who are considered to be one of the
significant suppliers of cocaine into New Zealand. Based on wastewater data
we believe this group was supplying the majority of cocaine into New Zealand.
The investigation is unique as it has linked the importation of cocaine from
South America and Spain into New Zealand, as well as money laundering
offences in the United States of America.
Five of the Christchurch-based Colombian nationals arrested were working as
contractors on farms in Canterbury.
There is nothing to suggest the farm owners and managers had any knowledge of
this operation and we thank them for their cooperation with Police as the
search warrants were executed.
Over the last two years a total of 50 kilograms of cocaine has been seized at
international ports or at New Zealand’s border.
It will be alleged that this group has money laundered at least $600,000.
In the termination phase, we seized approximately $300,000 in cash, 3 ounces
of cocaine and a number of cryptocurrency wallets, one of which contains
$70,000. The investigation continues and we expect more assets.
Detective Superintendent Williams says “Transnational Organised Crime
groups are specifically targeting New Zealand, because we pay some of the
highest wholesale and retail prices for drugs in the world, generating huge
profits for them. To maximise these profits, these groups are inserting their
own people into New Zealand who set up importing pathways, distribute to
local gangs, and move the money out of New Zealand as quickly as they can.
We define these groups as Transnational Organised Crime Group Cells or TNOC
cells.
“Since 2017 the National Organised Crime Group working in conjunction with
NZ Customs Service and overseas Police Agencies have identified, disrupted
and dismantled 23 of these TNOC cells. In total this has seen over 80
people facing serious drug dealing and money laundering offences. Of this
80 just under 40 are overseas nationals from 19 countries, a number of whom
received long prison sentences. These groups are intent on pumping as much
illicit drugs as they can into our communities causing considerable social
harm, crime and victimisation.
“But what they are not taking into account is that New Zealand is a small
country population wise, with very effective tools and cross-agency
capability. Through ongoing enduring relationships with our international
partners, we have a very good understanding of international networks and the
methodologies being used to import illicit products in and move cash out.
Simply put it doesn’t take us long to identify these TNOC cells and rout
them out.
“So our message today is don’t bother coming. We will identify your
people, we will break your networks, we will seize what assets you have,
whether here or overseas, and when caught your people can expect to spend
considerable time in our jails.
“Operation Mist reiterates the importance of our transnational partnerships
with law enforcement agencies across the globe in our common ongoing efforts
to dismantle organised crime groups and the enormous harm they cause in our
communities.”
Bruce Berry, Manager Intelligence at New Zealand Customs, says “Customs and
Police are constantly looking to disrupt how these groups operate. As they
continue to adapt and grow, we will continue targeting these groups and the
individuals that align themselves with them. New Zealand is one part of the
illicit supply chain and it is through expanding our own law enforcement
networks that we can have a lasting disruptive effect on organised crime.”
Today’s announcement demonstrates how the DEA, led by its Legal Attaché
Offices around the world, and our multiple foreign law enforcement partners
can come together to successfully combat transnational organised crime and
drug trafficking activity. The trafficking of cocaine into New Zealand by
South American cartels will be detected, and this should serve as a warning
to criminals everywhere who are attempting to bring drugs into New Zealand
that they are no match for collective law enforcement co-operation.

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