Six Auckland men arrested in connection with the largest seizure of methamphetamine in the country on Ninety Mile Beach and at Totara North have pleaded not guilty to a raft of charges and elected trial by jury.
Ulakai Fakaosilea, 26, Amoki Matoto Fonua, 32, Jermiah Iusitini, 27, Malachi Tuilotolava, 25, and Ka Yip Wan, 26, appeared in the High Court in Whangarei yesterday for a case review.
A sixth man, Stevie Norua Cullen, 34, appeared via audio visual link from Christchurch where he is on an electronically-monitored bail.
The other five men are in custody and will re-appear in the High Court in Auckland on November 4 for electronic bail applications.
Interim name suppression continues for a seventh man.
They were arrested in connection with the seizure of 448kg of meth from the back of a campervan on June 19 and a further 46kg from bags buried in sand dunes on Ninety Mile Beach.
The drugs are worth $494 million and outstripped the 334kg of meth seized in New Zealand last year.
Observant locals called police after noticing the occupants of several vehicles acting suspiciously in the area for the past fortnight, and trying to launch boats off the west coast.
Police found a boat abandoned on Ninety Mile Beach, with a number of mesh bags on board.
They began searching for a Toyota Prado and a rental campervan, as the occupants had been seen trying to launch boats in the area.
Members of the public told police that the men driving the campervan and the Toyota had been offering large amounts of cash in exchange for help to launch the boats.
Cullen and Iusitini are facing charges of importing meth, possession of meth for supply, and participating in an organised criminal group.
Fakaosilea, Fonua and Wan are charged with importing meth and possession for supply while Tuilotolava is facing charges of importing meth, possession for supply, participating in an organised criminal group and money laundering.
They first appeared in the Kaitaia District Court in August.
In the High Court yesterday, Crown solicitor Mike Smith said he was waiting for formal written statements of the six men from police which he hoped to file in court before Christmas.
They will re-appear in the High Court on February 2 next year when a trial date is expected to be set.