Jared Savage

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

NZ a target for bargain rate Iranian P

Refugee Yashar Ghasemi. Photo / Richard Robinson.
Refugee Yashar Ghasemi. Photo / Richard Robinson.

Iran has emerged as a cheap source of methamphetamine which can be bought for $5000 a kilogram and sold for $1 million at street level.

International crime syndicates are smuggling huge amounts of the class A drug to trafficking transit points such as Malaysia and Thailand, then using human "mules" to shift the packages to countries including Japan and New Zealand where P commands a strong price.

Bought for as little as $5000 in Iran, a kilogram of methamphetamine can be sold in ounce bags (28.5g) for nearly $500,000 at a wholesale price in New Zealand.

A kilogram of P is worth $1 million at street level.

Those huge profits can be moved around the world through a traditional money transfer scheme, called hawala, which police say makes it virtually impossible to trace money laundering.

A crime syndicate from Iran was recently targeted, which led to the arrests of two members of the Auckland cell, as well as a Polish courier and a leading gang figure.

Adam Tyniec flew to Auckland International Airport on Emirates flight EK406 from Dubai in April last year.

A Polish national living in Spain, Tyniec was carrying a small grey hard-shell suitcase, which was x-rayed by Customs officials.

The x-ray revealed "inconsistencies" in the lower half of the suitcase and on closer inspection, a false bottom was discovered.

A clear plastic bag with 1.9kg of methamphetamine was inside - worth $1.9 million at street level.

The 50-year-old later told authorities he had initially refused the advances of the Iranian syndicate on a number of occasions and was "stupid" for yielding.

He pleaded guilty to importing and possession of a Class-A drug and was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

To trace the Iranian connection in Auckland, drug detectives organised a "controlled delivery" in which Tyniec was followed to the planned meeting place.

Yashar Ghasemi, a 32-year-old who came to New Zealand as a refugee, was later arrested after taking control of the 1.9kg package.

Ghasemi has since pleaded guilty to possession of the Class-A drug for supply, as well as supplying methamphetamine to an Auckland gang member.

The senior King Cobra gang member was arrested and charged with possession.

Another Iranian, Homayun Nouri, has pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine for supply.

The war on P has traditionally focused on China as the source country of pseudoephedrine which is smuggled to New Zealand and "cooked" into methamphetamine.

But seizures of the class C drug have decreased in recent years lending weight to the possibility that more, cheap, methamphetamine is being smuggled in final form.

Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Cahill, of the Organised and Financial Crime Agency, said he could not talk specifically about the Iran-related arrests as the matter was still before the courts.

But he told the Weekend Herald that Iran was a significant source for methamphetamine around the world.

As Auckland detectives were investigating the Iranian syndicate, Malaysian police arrested nine Iranians and seized 70kg of the drug and $2.9 million in cash.

The Iranian syndicate was supplying methamphetamine to New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia and Australia.

"Iran is a big concern because methamphetamine is so cheap to buy, between $5000 and $8000 for a kilogram," said Mr Cahill.

A kilogram could be sold wholesale in ounces (28.5g) for around $500,000 in New Zealand - with a street value of $1 million if sold by the gram.

What is hawala?

* Detectives investigating Iranian criminal groups say a traditional money transfer system makes it "virtually impossible" to trace money laundering.

* Hawala, which means trust, is an ancient system of transferring money across borders in which the cash does not physically move.

* The debit scheme works through a network of hawala dealers around the globe. Someone wanting to send money to family or friends overseas, gives that money to the hawala dealer.

* He then rings his counterpart in the foreign country and asks him to deliver that sum.

* Anyone with the authentication code can then pick up the cash, after the deduction of commission charges. A reverse transaction can later be initiated to square the books of each hawala dealer.

* The system has been linked overseas to the funding of terrorism groups.

* Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Cahill said the paperless hawala system made it "virtually impossible" for police to trace the laundering of drug profits.

* "No money physically changes hands but it still crosses borders. It's certainly done in a manner which means we can't follow through the international banking system."

- NZ Herald

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