Trial for drug accused will wait until April next year

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The record seizure of methamphetamine in the Far North with approximate street value of $448 million.
PHOTO//SUPPLIED
The record seizure of methamphetamine in the Far North with approximate street value of $448 million. PHOTO//SUPPLIED

The earliest a jury trial can be held for six men arrested over the largest seizure of methamphetamine ever in the country is April next year.

Ulakai Fakaosilea, 26, Amoki Matoto Fonua, 32, Jermiah Iusitini, 27, Malachi Tuilotolava, 25, and Ka Yip Wan, 26, and Stevie Cullen, 34, have pleaded not guilty to a raft of drugs' charges and elected trial by jury.

All expect Cullen appeared in the High Court at Whangarei last week for a callover.

Cullen appeared via audio visual link from the South Island where he has been remanded on bail. The others have been remanded in custody.

They were arrested in connection with the seizure of 494kg of meth from the back of a campervan and from bags buried in sand dunes on Ninety Mile Beach in June last year.

During Thursday'scallover, presided over by Justice Kit Toogood via audio visual link from Auckland, the judge said regrettably the earliest available date for the trial in Whangarei was April 2018.

He said other cases were competing for court times in the first and second quarter of next year and it was possible the trial for the six drug accuseds may be further pushed out.

The trial could take up to eight weeks, one of the longest ever held in Northland.

Crown prosecutor Richard Annandale said further evidence has yet to be filed, more formal statements were yet to come in.

He suggested a further callover in two months.

The Crown has 65 witnesses.

Cullen's lawyer Stephen Bonnar requested that since all defence lawyers were based in Auckland, the next callover be held in the High Court at Auckland which Justice Toogood said made sense.

All men were remanded for a callover in Auckland on April 27 and their attendance has been excused.

The drugs are worth $494 million and outstripped the 334kg of meth seized in New Zealand last year.

Observant locals called police after noticing the occupants of several vehicles acting suspiciously in the area for a fortnight, and trying to launch boats off the west coast.

Police found a boat abandoned on Ninety Mile Beach, with a number of mesh bags on board.

They began searching for a Toyota Prado and a rental campervan, as the occupants had been seen trying to launch boats in the area.

Members of the public told police that the men driving the campervan and the Toyota had been offering large amounts of cash in exchange for help to launch the boats.

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