Two people on trial in Whangārei were part of an international criminal group dubbed an "octopus" and helped provide logistical support in landing more than half a tonne of methamphetamine on a Northland beach, a jury was told.
Salaima Fakaosilea, 30, and Stevie Norua Cullen, 36, are each facing single charges of importing meth on to Ninety Mile Beach in June 2016 and participating in an organised criminal group.
Their jury trial started in the High Court at Whangārei yesterday and is expected to last five weeks.
Both were charged in relation to the importation of 501kg of meth with an estimated street value of up to $448m.
Crown prosecutor Richard Annandale told the jury Fakaosilea and Cullen participated in an organised criminal group knowing they were contributing to meeting its objectives of importing and distributing Class A drugs, namely meth.
Although Fakaosilea was not the main player, Annandale said she was a trusted communications link who provided logistical support for the group that included organising a rental car and a campervan, provided cash, and being a contact person in relation to the arrival of two Asian men.
Annandale said Cullen was, for the majority of time between May 23 and June 12, 2016, present in the Far North and carried out physical tasks such as researching tides and swells, places to launch boats from, booking hotels, and was part of planning sessions.
Annandale gave the analogy of an octopus while referring to the group which was not flat in structure but had levels in terms of the type of work everyone was delegated to perform.
"The two defendants took part in the criminal group, knowing there was an organised criminal group in existence whose objective was to deal in Class A drugs."
He said the players in the group communicated through Blackberry phones using codes names such as Thugga, Tall Guy, Lace, Grabble, and Marvel.
Cullen's code name was Marvel while Fakaosilea's was Lace.
Annandale said the group used Ciphr - encrypted email messages that required a password and users could delete messages after 48 hours of being sent - in order to avoid detection.
He said boats were being launched under the guise of going fishing and on one occasion, a ritual was held on a beach in the Far North prior to the launch where an object was kissed as a ruse preceding the 'scattering of a relative's ashes' in the sea.
Cullen's lawyer Annabel Maxwell-Scott said her client was in the Far North with a group that went sightseeing, drinking, and travelling.
He used his name in hotels and motels and among his group he had the nickname "Marvel", she said.
The issue for the jury, she said, was not whether Cullen was there but why was he there.
Maria Pecotic, representing Fakaosilea, asked the jury to keep an open mind and to put to one side strong views the jurors may have about drugs and the quantity of the meth discovered.