A 68-year-old man duped into smuggling 1.5kg of meth into the country believed he was actually collecting $8.5 million in cash.
The Auckland man lost tens of thousands of dollars to Nigerian scammers over a number of years in an online fraud and flew to Papua New Guinea in November to receive $8.5 million as a reward. The cash never arrived but he was again promised a large payment if he carried a laptop back to New Zealand.
Instead, he was tricked into taking luggage on his flight back to Auckland with 1.5kg of methamphetamine hidden inside.
The Herald can now reveal the 68-year-old is Trevor Francis Miranda.
He has been charged with importing and possession of a Class-A drug for supply and appeared in Manukau District Court yesterday.
Miranda was showered with gifts during his Port Moresby stay but when he could not fit them into his own luggage, his hosts gave him two extra bags to help carry them.
Customs officers at Auckland International Airport discovered the 1.5kg of drug haul concealed inside the luggage in November, which led to a five-week joint investigation with the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand.
Operation Gatsby intercepted the phone calls and messages between Miranda and a Nigerian man he was supposed to deliver the luggage to in New Zealand.
Surveillance teams also followed Miranda who co-operated with investigators after he arranged to meet his contact at an Auckland supermarket.
At the supposed handover, the 68-year-old refused to relinquish the luggage because the contact did not use the correct coded phrase.
His contact in Nigeria called him to reassure Miranda to hand the bags over.
The Herald understands police surveillance teams also noticed other men shadowing Miranda who appeared to be monitoring whether police were tailing him before attempts were made to collect the packages. Two more packages of methamphetamine, weighing 1.2kg, were found hidden in shoes during Operation Gatsby. Police say those drugs had been sent here from the Philippines and Cameroon through the international mail system.
The total amount seized in Operation Gatsby had a street value of $2.7 million.
Nine other people have been arrested and charged with the importation and possession of Class-A drugs for supply, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
One of the accused also faces charges over a cannabis growing house discovered during the police raids.
Police said the leaders of the alleged drug ring were Nigerian expatriates based in Auckland and Woodville, near Palmerston North.
Miranda was released on bail until April for a case review. Outside court he attempted to evade the Herald and was ushered back into the building and out a rear door by court security.
His co-accused have elected to go to a jury trial later in the year.
Trevor Francis Miranda
*Believed he would be paid $8.5 million in Papua New Guinea after being fooled by a Nigerian internet fraud
*Given two bags to bring back to Auckland. 1.5kg of
methamphetamine found hidden inside
*68-year-old now facing charges of importing and
possession of a Class-A drug for supply
*Nine others arrested in Operation Gatsby
*Total of 2.7kg seized with street value of $2.7 million