A gaunt-looking man stood in an Auckland courtroom this week - he had just spent more than a year in a Venezuelan prison.
The 57-year-old, sporting a greying beard, looked little like the man who was arrested last July in the city of Maiquetía after Interpol issued a global wanted notice.
Ryszard Wilk had left New Zealand in April 2017 but he was quickly hunted by international and local authorities, including the National Organised Crime Group.
He was accused of being part of a conspiracy led by a mystery West African mastermind, who was allegedly orchestrating the importation of drugs into New Zealand.
Involving at least 10 people, law enforcement investigations stretched from Auckland and Tauranga to Germany, eastern Europe, Ecuador and eventually Venezuela.
The Herald on Sunday earlier revealed details of the police investigation into the group, code-named Operation Moa, which included phone taps, a covert surveillance team at Auckland's Aotea Square, and $130,000 of buried cash at Auckland's Bastion Pt.
Now, after several months of negotiations, Wilk has been successfully extradited from the South American country.
The Herald on Sunday understands members of the New Zealand Police special tactics group were used to help bring Wilk back, while a police spokesperson said he was escorted on commercial flights by two Kiwi officers.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman told the Herald on Sunday the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in Venezuela authorised the extradition earlier this year before Wilk returned to New Zealand on October 18.
The Crown Law Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade were also involved in the extradition process, she said.
On ThursdayWilk appeared in the Auckland District Court and - aided by a Polish interpreter - pleaded not guilty to drug importation, money laundering and conspiracy charges.
Now being held in a Kiwi jail, he is due before a judge again in February but the court heard his case is likely to be transferred to the High Court where two of his alleged co-conspirators, including a Russian sailor, await trial.
Wilk and his son Ralph were accused of meeting and paying the Russian man, Aleksandr Cherushev, for $1.2 million of cocaine in September 2016.
The haul had been allegedly smuggled into New Zealand from South America by Cherushev on board the food vessel Discovery Bay.
Wilk is also accused of attempting to arrange further drug drops at the direction of the West African man, who was using a telephone number with a prefix for Ecuador, court documents obtained by the Herald on Sunday read.
In September this year, the Herald also revealed police had nabbed Cherushev after a three-year global search.
He was arrested at Nelson's port after arriving on the container ship Seatrade Red.
Fellow Polish man Patryk Lukasik, 42, is also accused of being part of the conspiracy and was arrested in Germany before being extradited back to New Zealand earlier this year over money laundering and drug importation charges.
Wilk's son stayed in New Zealand and was arrested in mid-2017.
He was due to go to trial in September last year alongside Auckland builder Bryan Williams and IT engineer Mohammed Khan but all three pleaded guilty at the eleventh hour.
Ralph Wilk was sentenced to eight years and five months' imprisonment on two representative charges for supplying a Class A drug and money laundering.
Williams and Khan were both sentenced to home detention.
A woman who worked at a money remittance company on Queen St, Qiannan (Christina) Tang, was also charged with money laundering.
In June, a High Court jury found her guilty of one charge but acquitted her on a remaining eight counts.
She was later discharged without conviction.