Jared Savage

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

Crime syndicates target Islands

Police found 200kg of cocaine and a dead body on a yacht in Tonga. Photo / Australian Federal Police
Police found 200kg of cocaine and a dead body on a yacht in Tonga. Photo / Australian Federal Police

South Pacific islands are being targeted by crime syndicates as bases from which to smuggle drugs and guns to New Zealand and Australia.

Methamphetamine is mass manufactured on isolated islands by Asian underworld figures, then shipped to remote spots on the New Zealand coast to be distributed by gang networks, according to a police intelligence analyst.

This threat is expected to grow over the next three years and is a shift away from the common method of drug trafficking by Asian organised crime.

Past investigations have shown that large amounts of Contac NT, a Chinese cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, have been smuggled into New Zealand by numerous tactics.

The pseudoephedrine has then been "cooked" into the Class A drug methamphetamine for supply around the country.

The profit margins are high but Asian crime figures believe more money can be made by directly importing P into New Zealand, analysis by Mark Herrick has found.

Mr Herrick, an intelligence officer who recently left the police for a job in private security, wrote that the Pacific Islands were vulnerable to bribery, had weak financial systems and had borders that were difficult to patrol.

"The corruption of key officials would be a major factor facilitating methamphetamine manufacture on isolated islands," he said in his report.

"By using pre-established relationships with New Zealand gangs, Chinese groups would use New Zealand methamphetamine cooks to manufacture product in the South Pacific region then transport it to New Zealand in a number of small- to medium-sized vessels for distribution."

He anonymously interviewed the leader of an Asian crime syndicate who was using shipping routes from China to New Zealand, via South Pacific ports, to transport Contac NT.

The drug lord said he would make more money from directly importing methamphetamine but didn't want to take the risk in China or New Zealand.

But he described how he could continue to bribe officials to ensure he could cook P on deserted islands with little risk. All the materials and equipment could be transported through his current shipping routes and P "cooks" could be flown from New Zealand. "Once manufactured, I will pay fishermen to transport the drugs in large amounts to New Zealand ... through my connections with New Zealand gangs I will be able to arrange for isolated locations to drop off the drugs."

Mr Herrick's analysis said this probability was an "extreme danger" which needed greater co-operation between South Pacific, Australian and New Zealand law enforcement agencies to combat.

"From a New Zealand perspective, an increase of Customs activity specifically in relation to small- or medium-sized vessels from the South Pacific would also reduce impacts," he said in his report.

Customs officials rejected Official Information Act requests on the subject.

A "super lab" with enough chemicals to make 1000kg of methamphetamine was discovered in Fiji in 2004. The drugs were destined for New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the United States.

There have been no other large busts since then, but Mr Herrick wrote it was more likely the labs had yet to be found rather than that they did not exist.

More recently, authorities have raided several yachts in the South Pacific with hundreds of millions of dollars of cocaine stashed on board. One, a yacht from South America, was found grounded on a Tongan atoll on Friday with 200kg of cocaine and a dead body on board.

Read more: Sportsmen convicted of roles in drugs plot

- NZ Herald

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