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

Syndicate's pills make drug users turn vicious

Cash and firearms were seized along with pills and drug manufacturing equipment during Operation Ark. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Cash and firearms were seized along with pills and drug manufacturing equipment during Operation Ark. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Police say a criminal syndicate allegedly making thousands of Ecstasy pills every week sold the "Red Rocket" tablets that led to people being taken to hospital with violent seizures and hallucinations.

And it was revealed the 12-month-long inquiry hit a snag when detectives were forced to switch off covert cameras after the Supreme Court in September ruled such surveillance illegal, until a new law was urgently passed by the Government.

Detective Inspector Bruce Good, the head of Operation Ark, spoke about the potential dangers posed by the hundreds of thousands of pills on display with bundles of cash and firearms at a press conference yesterday.

He said some of the tablets seized during the investigation were linked to recent hospital admissions where patients had to be sedated because they suffered seizures and displayed extreme violence.

"Those who've been manufacturing such pills have regularly modified the molecular structure of various compounds and, by so doing, created dangerous substances that have been sold as Ecstasy," said Mr Good.

"Some of the product we've investigated and seized has been made alongside rat poison."

At least six people were admitted to Middlemore Hospital in one weekend after taking Red Rocket pills, as first revealed by the Herald in September.

Mr Good said the alleged drug syndicate imported the raw materials from overseas and each week in Auckland was pressing tens of thousands of tablets, which sold on the street for at least $40.

But he said manufacturers were "tweaking" the molecular structure of the pills, which meant they were classified as Ecstasy, a Class-B drug, but also included analogues 4-MEC and 4-MMC which are Class-C.

"You cannot ignore the dangers. If someone puts an Ecstasy tablet in your mouth, you don't know where it's come from, who's made it, the structure of it and what effect it might have.

"These people are tweaking the structure on a very regular basis. My advice to anyone putting Ecstasy in their mouth - don't."

Mr Good said secret cameras were switched off after the covert surveillance ruling in September.

But they were turned back on last month after Parliament passed the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill into law under urgency.

Mr Good said the alleged criminal syndicate supplied up to 90 per cent of the Ecstasy market for several years, making millions of dollars.

Two more men were arrested yesterday, including Allen Bryan Cho, 37, who handed himself into police and was charged with laundering more than $300,000. He also faces charges of supplying Class B drugs, as well as methamphetamine and cocaine.

The other was a 30-year-old North Shore man granted name suppression.

The two arrests took to 21 the number of people charged.

Five others appeared in Auckland District Court yesterday to face a wide range of charges, including the supply and sale of Class A, B and C drugs, money laundering, and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

All were granted interim name suppression, except for Raj Devi, a 54-year-old woman from Hillsborough charged with money laundering of $45,000.

About $14 million in assets were seized in the raids on Wednesday, including up to $1 million iin cash, multimillion-dollar homes, expensive cars such as Bentleys, BMWs and Range Rovers, jet skis and a boat.

At the centre of the inquiry is a 37-year-old whose $3 million home was seized.

Strict suppression orders protect the identities of some of the accused, including their occupations.

- NZ Herald

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