Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Drugs hid in Harrods hamper

Matthew Frewer visited the safety deposit box 120 times in six months. Photo / Supplied
Matthew Frewer visited the safety deposit box 120 times in six months. Photo / Supplied

A multimillion-dollar drug syndicate run from London smuggled hundreds of thousands of Ecstasy pills inside Harrods gift baskets to sell in downtown Auckland and throughout New Zealand.

The final chapter in Operation Pave ended this week with Constantine Kavaleros, John Apostolakis and Nicholas Bowyer found guilty of the supply of MDMA, a Class B drug.

Sixteen people were arrested in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in July 2008 after a police investigation into the smuggling of 100,000 Ecstasy tablets over a three-month period.

Of those, 14 were convicted with most pleading guilty before trial.

The central figure was Matthew Frewer, a 38-year-old Englishman in Auckland, who Crown prosecutor Mina Wharepouri said controlled the importation and distribution of the drug from the UK.

Tablets were hidden inside gift baskets from Harrods, the famous London department store, and posted to Kavaleros at Auckland addresses rented under false names to cover the syndicate's tracks.

Once the gift baskets arrived - with up to 100,000 Ecstasy tablets hidden inside - Kavaleros delivered the illicit contents to Frewer. He arranged to meet middlemen such as Nicholas Bowyer and Richard Allessio Rinaldi.

By day, Bowyer and Rinaldi had high-flying white-collar careers with Microsoft and IBM.

Bowyer was this week found guilty of supply of the Class B drug after a trial at the High Court at Auckland. Rinaldi pleaded guilty to one representative count of selling 3000 pills, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

He declined an interview, but through his lawyer Todd Simmonds said he sold Ecstasy while "temporarily" mixing with the wrong crowd after his marriage broke up. Mr Simmonds said his client was "ashamed of his offending and is all too aware that he has let his family, friends and colleagues down".

Another crucial link in the Ecstasy supply chain was someone who can only be called the Fisherman - who pleaded guilty and gave evidence for the Crown.

As the wholesaler, the 54-year-old was a trusted middleman for the overseas-based operation. He never paid for the drugs up front. Instead, he would sell 1000 pills to his dealers for $25,000 and keep a few thousand dollars himself.

In a wide-ranging admission to the Weekend Herald two years ago, the Fisherman said he sold Ecstasy to street-level dealers in broad daylight.

Cash and money were often exchanged at bars in the Viaduct Harbour, the hub of the city's nightlife, as he and his associates gave wrapped "birthday presents" to each other.

The drug ring talked guardedly in code. "Cars", "car parts" or "wheels" referred to 1000 pills, while "invoices" or "paperwork" referred to payment for the drugs. Sometimes the drugs were described by the colour or the designs printed on the MDMA tablets, such as a cherry or iron cross.

The money poured in. On one occasion, Frewer sold 10,000 pills for $220,000. At that time, one Ecstasy pill sold for between $35 and $40 at street level. Frewer stashed the cash in a safety deposit box in the ASB vaults in downtown Auckland, which records show he visited 120 times over six months.

Police found US$240,000 ($375,000) and $100,000 in the vault, and receipts that showed $785,000 had been converted into US$502,000 and €30,000 ($65,700).

By then, millions of dollars were smuggled out of the country by syndicate members, often to Thailand, then back to London.

One money courier, Periclis Antonio Pericli, was stopped at Auckland International Airport with nearly US$440,000 hidden in a suitcase. Another bag belonging to John Apostolakis contained US$150,000 and $480,000.

Mr Wharepouri told the court that police first learned about Frewer in April 2008 after tailing Dean Keown, a convicted Christchurch drug dealer, who met him in Auckland.

Detectives began following Frewer and unravelled the syndicate by bugging the cellphones of suspects under surveillance.

Detective Sergeant Mike Beal, of the Auckland Metro drug squad, said the sophisticated Ecstasy ring was a "colourful cast of criminals" which had supplied the drug since 2004.

He said Frewer made $1.4 million in a 10-week stretch.

"These were people who had lots of opportunities in life, from backgrounds of privilege," he said.

"They were well educated, well travelled, with a number of them in good employment. But drug dealing is all about the money."

- NZ Herald

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