New Zealand seizes 3.5 tons of cocaine in nation’s largest bust


New Zealand authorities have seized more than three tonnes of cocaine that was wrapped in 81 bales and stored on a floating transit point in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the single largest haul of the drug in the country’s history. It’s a big catch.

The stockpile, valued at $315 million, is enough to supply the Australian market for one year and New Zealand for three decades, New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Koster told reporters on Wednesday. Police said the cocaine – which weighed 3.2 metric tons, or 3.5 tons in the United States – came from South America and was destined for Australia.

The bundles of cocaine were “set up in nets” with flotation devices. Greg Williams, a senior New Zealand police detective, told reporters the design was not unusual. “There are a number of ways that organized crime would like to have its products in our country,” Williams said. This includes medicines that are flown on airplanes, sent by mail, sent by sea or carried by hand in a suitcase. “And this is just one of those ways.”

The packages of cocaine were emblazoned with the Batman logo and images of a black four-leaf clover. The symbols represent the logos of drug manufacturers, Williams said.

“That’s their trademark logo,” he said. “In the underworld, it’s like ‘Here’s my mark, you can trust me.’

New Zealand authorities declined to disclose the operational details of the seizure, including how they obtained the drugs. But he said the New Zealand partners of the Five Eyes law enforcement group – which also includes agencies from Australia, the UK, Canada and the US – provided support. Police said that no arrests have been made.

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 back to New Zealand, where they would be incinerated. New Zealand police said in a news release that the discovery was made as part of Operation Hydros, which began in December and aims to “monitor the movement of suspicious vessels”.

How do illegal drugs get to remote Australia? Check with the flight attendant.

The country’s previous largest haul of illegal drugs was in March last year when authorities seized a shipment of 700 kilograms, or 1,540 pounds, of cocaine, worth about $177 million. Two weeks ago, authorities found 613 kilograms, or about 1,350 pounds, of methamphetamine, worth $155 million.

According to the NZ Drug Foundation, a charity group in Wellington, alcohol and tobacco are the drugs that cause the most harm to the wider public in New Zealand. Among illegal drugs, cannabis and meth are the most commonly seized by police, while the amount of MDMA, or ecstasy, seized by police has more than doubled since 2017, according to the report. New Zealand, on the other hand, uses “smaller amounts” of cocaine than other countries, the report said.

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