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

Mother who committed 'almost perfect' crime faces prison

Yixin Gan at the High Court in Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Yixin Gan at the High Court in Auckland. Photo / Jason Oxenham

A mother of three who committed the "almost perfect" crime of smuggling 250kg of drugs into the country now faces a long prison sentence.

Yixin Gan, 35, was this afternoon found guilty of two counts of importing a Class-B drug but acquitted on a third count by the jury, who deliberated for just a few hours at the High Court at Auckland.

She was also convicted of possession of a Class-B drug for supply in connection to the October 2013 importation, where detectives found 250kg of ContacNT, one of the main ingredients needed to cook methamphetamine.

The SkyCity VIP gambler was remanded in custody and will be sentenced next month.

She is the last of more than 30 people who were convicted across four trials following Taskforce Ghost, an 18-month covert investigation which delved into Auckland's underworld.

The case was about pseudoephedrine, once the active ingredient in New Zealanders' favourite cold and flu medicines, but now banned as it's the main ingredient needed to cook methamphetamine.

Pseudoephedrine can be extracted from a medicine widely available in China called ContacNT. A packet costs just a "few dollars" but a "set" of 223g of pink granules sells for around $9000 on the black market in New Zealand.

Bugged phone conversations, mainly in Mandarin and Cantonese, and covert surveillance dominated the evidence given to the jurors.

But none of that would exist if not for the double life of an undercover agent.

The officer in charge of Operation Ghost, Detective Sergeant Mike Beal, told the High Court the investigation began when police became aware of "significant quantities" of pseudoephedrine coming into Auckland, then being diverted into drug manufacturing around the country.

The decision was made to immerse an undercover agent, called Joe Arama, in the criminal underworld to build his own credibility and gain the trust of his target, Felix Lim.

They rubbed shoulders in the SkyCity casino and a friendship turned into a business arrangement.

One recorded conversation, in May 2013, played to the court showed he was successful in posing as a drug dealer.

"I'm going to see a guy, how about the pink stuff that Alan's got?" Arama asked Lim. "How much for five?"

Beal said they were talking about five sets of pseudoephedrine, which it seemed was half the amount that Lim would normally sell.

The answer from Lim was $46,500.

By tapping Lim's phone, the police were able to identify his supplier - See Meng Hoo - and in turn his supplier, Van Thanh Tran.

Through Tran, police also listened to the conversations of Da Wen Shao, also known as "Tall Man". It was physical surveillance of these two men that led the police to Gan.

Tran was sentenced to 13 years and 8 months in prison.

In his opening address, Crown prosecutor Scott McColgan told the court Gan had "cottoned on to an almost perfect" method of smuggling the drugs into the country.

She ran a legitimate business shipping food from China to the Pacific Islands, with a short stop in New Zealand.

But because the shipments were shown as goods in transit - and therefore not technically coming through the border - the consignments were not inspected by Customs.

Instead, the shipments were sent to the secure Customs-controlled area at Auckland Airport until they were freighted to the final destination.

"But what if you had an inside man in the Customs-controlled area?" was the question Mr McColgan posed to the jury.

The "inside man" for Gan, according to the Crown, was Mosese Uele, who ran a freight-forwarding company called Ezi World Cargo.

Mosese Uele. Photo / Supplied
Mosese Uele. Photo / Supplied

Inside the Ezi World Cargo premises, Uele switched the ContacNT with legitimate potato starch to be sent to Tonga. The boxes of drugs were put in a van and driven to a car park in Auckland - all while being followed by police.

This week, Uele told the jury he did not know what was inside the boxes of "starch". He said he was paid $60,000 in a large brown envelope.

"Did you ask why she paid $60,000 to swap 20 boxes of starch?" asked McColgan.
"It wasn't my business. My role was to swap boxes and get money. That was my only concern," Uele replied.

"It was too great ... [I was] too greedy."

- NZ Herald

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