December 10, 2023

Operation Blanco: Police, customs seize cocaine worth $63 million at Auckland port, four men arrested

$63 million worth of cocaine was seized by police and customs in Auckland yesterday. Photo / NZ Police

Four men have been arrested and a $63 million drug importation bound for New Zealand shores disrupted in a joint operation between NZ Police and Customs.

As a result of the operation, dubbed Blanco, 140kg of cocaine was seized at the Port of Auckland yesterday.

The investigation identified the concerning trend of organised crime groups to aggressively target and attempt to “rip” or take possession of the imported drugs while they are transiting through ports or other associated facilities.

“This has been a method seen in overseas jurisdictions and is now happening more and more in New Zealand,” a police spokesperson said.

The haul was found concealed within a cavity of a container, which police say is understood to have originated in Ecuador and travelled through Panama to its final destination of New Zealand.

Detective Inspector Tom Gollan, from the police National Organised Crime Group (NOCG), said four men were arrested in Auckland yesterday as part of the investigation.

“Three of the men were deported back to New Zealand in July and August 2023, and a fourth man is an Australian national who recently entered New Zealand as a visitor,” he said.

During the investigation, a drone the group used for surveillance was recovered while search warrants were being conducted during the termination phase.

Also located were newly purchased angle grinders, and equipment to be used to recover the drugs in the container.

“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.

“These organised crime groups try all sorts of concealment methods to attempt to beat law enforcement authorities,” Gollan said.

All four men have appeared in the Auckland District Court facing charges relating to the importation of cocaine, firearm offences, and participating in an organised crime group.

Police believe the haul of 140kg of cocaine was destined for the New Zealand market and had a street value of $63 million.

The seizure prevented 1.4 million doses of cocaine getting into the community.

“This investigation highlights the extreme lengths this organised criminal enterprise went to to try and avoid detection,” said Gollan.

Acting customs investigations manager Simon Peterson said the seizure was just one example of what customs and its partners dealt 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.

“The success in bringing down this smuggling attempt also shows customs’ commitment and determination, working alongside our police partners and offshore and industry partners, to disrupt this predatory criminal activity, hit the profits these gangs aim to make from exploiting our communities and play our part in reducing the wide-ranging social harm drugs they cause in our communities,” Peterson said.

As the matter is now before the court, police and customs are limited in any further comment.

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