Yet another major drug ring has been smashed, with more than $44 million in drugs seized as police surpass the $500 million milestone in confiscated assets from gangs and criminals over the past four years.
And police have revealed about half of the huge stash of methamphetamine uncovered in raids across Auckland yesterday was hidden inside a bathtub.
In the latest sting, dubbed Operation Worthington, 16 search warrants were executed across the Auckland region yesterday, netting 44kg in methamphetamine valued at more than $44m, 26kg in ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, 5kg of ketamine and 3kg of MDMA, nearly $1m in cash, and property and four high-end vehicles worth more than $10m.
The haul included eight properties and a car park.
Police say more than 200 charges have been laid against 21 people as a result of the month-long operation which targeted drug importation and associated money laundering.
Warrants were executed across Auckland suburbs including Ranui, Sandringham, Onehunga, Auckland CBD, Pakuranga, West Harbour and Wattle Downs.
National Organised Crime Group Detective Inspector Paul Newman said the investigation initially focused on a group of individuals allegedly laundering millions of dollars in cash obtained from criminal offending in New Zealand.
However, detectives soon established that these individuals were allegedly part of a wider, very sophisticated syndicate involved in importing large quantities of methamphetamine and its precursors, along with other drugs such as ketamine and MDMA.
As part of the operation and with assistance from New Zealand Customs, a number of drug imports were intercepted and seized including a bathtub concealing more than 25kg of methamphetamine.
Police also seized a further 19kg of methamphetamine over the course of the investigation.
The drugs had been smuggled into the country in various ways, he said.
Those arrested were aged between 19 and 43 are were due to appear in the Auckland District Court.
Police could not rule out further arrests or charges as the operation remained ongoing.
Assistant Commissioner Investigations Lauano Sue Schwalger said yesterday's operation highlighted the success of police's continued focus on organised crime.
"Police have seized a total estimated $513 million worth of cash and assets since the annual reporting target came into effect on July 1, 2017.
"Our goal was to hit $500 million by June 30, and in doing so we know we have had a direct and significant impact on organised crime – an activity that feeds on greed, profits, and harm to the community."
Examples of the frozen assets that were restrained and later forfeited as part of sentencing that made up the huge haul included two boats and $28,700 in cash taken from Operation Frontia which was an investigation into the importation of methamphetamine.
Just last month approximately $2m in cash and assets, including five residential properties, vehicles, motorcycles, jet skis, cash and the contents of various bank accounts were seized in an operation that targeted senior members of the Mongrel Mob in Hawke's Bay involved in supplying methamphetamine.
The illegally gained and accrued wealth from criminals become proceeds of crime and will be redistributed back into positive community projects via the Proceeds of Crime Fund.
The fund had invested in several initiatives including $4.94m in reintegration services for women through Ara Poutama Aotearoa, $3.15m for mental health and addiction treatment services in the Eastern Police District, and $1.78m in the Ministry of Health's Manaaki Wāhine – a trauma-informed intervention for women experiencing homelessness.
"If we remove the money that is used by criminals to reinvest in further illicit activities, we dismantle their ability to create other opportunities to cause harm," Schwalger said.
Schwalger said taking away the assets that criminals had bought with the proceeds of their criminal activity sent the message that crime did not pay.
It also meant taking away the lifestyle and "high-end toys" that were used by gangs to attract prospective members.
"We will continue the excellent work we do to make New Zealand the safest country by making it the hardest place in the world for criminals to do business."