Jared Savage

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

Drug cops bug syndicate's 'Banker'

Police put a listening device in a unit in the exclusive Metropolis tower used by a British man known as 'The Banker'. Photo / Chris Gorman
Police put a listening device in a unit in the exclusive Metropolis tower used by a British man known as 'The Banker'. Photo / Chris Gorman

Detectives bugged a high-rise Auckland apartment to eavesdrop on a jet-setter they allege took a top role in a criminal ring selling designer drugs.

Police put a listening device in a unit in the exclusive Metropolis tower used by a British man known as "The Banker".

They placed the bug after attempts to intercept the man's private conversations were thwarted by "military grade" encryption technology on his phone and email, a court has heard.

He was also alleged to have cash and passports in a safety deposit box in case he had to flee the country. Overseas, he had "substantial financial assets" and criminal contacts.

The 46-year-old was one of 10 people arrested and charged yesterday with the importation, supply and sale of Ecstasy-type pills after a five-month investigation by the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of NZ.

Three leading members of the alleged syndicate were on bail on the exact same criminal charges laid in Operation Ark last November in which police seized more than $20 million worth of assets.

The alleged kingpin - a millionaire - has again received interim suppression of his name, businesses and trading brands.

But he did not seek bail yesterday, and nor did two of his alleged co-conspirators. They will apply for bail next month. Of those already on bail, only Brendon Nguyen did not seek name suppression.

Key details of the police case against the syndicate charged with the importation and supply of Class B and C drugs were revealed in the Auckland District Court yesterday as The Banker fought to be released on bail.

He has interim name suppression to protect his 5-year-old daughter, now in Child, Youth and Family care.

In seeking bail, defence lawyer Graeme Newell said his client had no criminal history anywhere in the world and both his British and Australian passports were seized by police.

Mr Newell said the man was the sole carer of his daughter and was upset by the thought that she would spend the night with strangers.

When Judge David McNaughton signalled he was unlikely to grant bail, the man appealed to the judge directly.

"I've never been in trouble anywhere and I've made a silly mistake ... I've got no passports, $1000 in a bank account, I'm not going anywhere."

But reading the police file in opposition to bail, Judge McNaughton said the man was known as "The Banker" by other members of the alleged syndicate. He moved to New Zealand in November - around the time when the original Operation Ark arrests were made - and was alleged to have worked closely with the millionaire businessman in the syndicate and split the profits.

The police alleged the British national helped to organise the importation of the Ecstasy analogue, or replica powders,from China and Singapore.

They were purchased for $50,000 a kilogram and later pressed into pills.

Before moving to New Zealand, The Banker lived for seven years in Thailand, where the police allege he gave advice to the syndicate on how to launder money and hide assets.

Detectives investigating the man said he took sophisticated measures to cover his tracks, including "military grade" encryption of his emails and cellphones. He also allegedly used Skype software on his computer so his conversations could not be electronically intercepted. In the end, police planted a bugging device inside his Metropolis apartment.

According to one recorded conversation, The Banker said he had stashed $20,000 cash and passports in a safety deposit box. In the event he was arrested and granted bail, he allegedly said he could flee the country with his daughter.

The police said he had a network of criminal contacts in Thailand and the UK, as well as "substantial funds in offshore accounts".

Investigating officers did not want him bailed until their inquiries overseas were finished. Judge McNaughton ordered another court hearing on Friday to determine bail and whether his identity should be revealed.

Four others also appeared in court yesterday charged with the sale of Class B and C drugs. Three were granted bail including Michael Gerard Hall, 53, Simon David McKinley, 28, and a 51-year-old woman granted interim name suppression.

A 54-year-old man was also granted interim name suppression but did not seek bail.

Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Cahill said the alleged drug dealing targeted in the investigation involved multi-million dollar sales, with one dealer alone by his own records purchasing $4.5 million worth of pills.

"There is a lot of ignorance amongst users of these drugs, about what the pills contain and the level of danger associated with using them," Mr Cahill said.

"[The arrests] will have an impact on the supply of harmful drugs that are regularly leading to hospital admissions."

Mr Cahill says the manufacturers and importers are constantly altering the chemical makeup of the drugs in an attempt to circumvent the law and avoid detection.

The pills come in various colours with stamped logos and retail for between $40 and $50.

WHAT'S IN THE PILLS

* 4-MEC (Class C)

* bk-MDEA (Class C)

* Alpha-PVP (Class C)

* N-Ethlamphetamine (Class B)

The pills made and sold by the alleged criminal syndicate contained analogues of other controlled drugs such as MDMA, the traditional ingredient of Ecstasy.

Pills in New Zealand have increasingly been cut with the more dangerous man-made drugs after a global shortage of the precursors or ingredients to MDMA.

Many tablets sold here contain no MDMA at all.

The mixture of replacement synthetic drugs, imported as powder from China and Singapore, is considered much more dangerous. The drugs have led to users becoming violent.

"Red Rocket" pills made by the alleged syndicate have caused particularly severe reactions.

At least six people were admitted to Middlemore Hospital in one weekend after taking Red Rocket pills.

They had to be sedated after suffering seizures and displaying extreme violence - behaviour not normally consistent with MDMA.

The alleged drug syndicate has also been linked to the pills taken by six Hamilton schoolgirls, the youngest only 13, last November.

The Fairfield College students were taken to hospital and were so aggressive that security guards were called in to control them.

- Nicholas Jones

- NZ Herald

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