Customs has seized nearly half a tonne of methamphetamine stashed inside a shipment of electric motors, and arrested three men in connection with the drugs.

The estimated 469kg haul is Customs' largest ever methamphetamine seizure at the border and has a street value of about $235 million.

Two Canadians and a New Zealand national are appearing in the Auckland District Court today.

Customs makes half ton Meth bust

Posted by nzherald.co.nz on Thursday, 5 September 2019

They face charges for the importation and possession of a class A controlled drug, which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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Further arrests are likely, according to authorities.

Customs recently began an investigation targeting an overseas criminal syndicate, and inquiries linked individuals to a New Zealand-based company.

Inside the shipping container that arrived at Ports of Auckland from Thailand. Photo / Customs
Inside the shipping container that arrived at Ports of Auckland from Thailand. Photo / Customs

By mid August, a shipment from Thailand was assessed as high-risk and searched by Customs officers when it arrived at the Ports of Auckland.

The shipping container held 60 electric motors, and each motor hid an average of around 8kg of methamphetamine.

Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry called it "an extremely sophisticated and complex importation" scheme run by an organised criminal syndicate.

A bag hidden inside a motor. Photo / Customs
A bag hidden inside a motor. Photo / Customs

About 65 Customs and police staff have conducted search raids across nine Auckland properties finding another 15kg of methamphetamine, a hand gun, and a large quantity of cash.

Those searches stretched from Mangatawhiri in the south to Te Atatu out west, Berry said.

The seizure was the result of solid intelligence and investigative work maximising Customs' expertise on border movements, he said.

A lot of hard work had been put in identifying the alleged offenders prior to importation, he said.

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"It's a known international trend for overseas nationals to come into the country just to receive and distribute drug shipments.

"They use storage units or commercial premises and hire homes on Airbnb as part of their illegal activity."

Berry urged owners of storage units and commercial premises, as well as Airbnb operators, to be alert so they did not unwittingly become involved in criminal activity.

"This seizure has disrupted a significant amount of drugs from reaching communities, and has deprived organised crime groups of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of profits," he said.

"Customs will continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies here and offshore, as well as industry partners, individuals and businesses, to target shipments and syndicates."

Detective Superintendent Greg Williams said the seizure was yet another example of the work being done to make New Zealand more resilient to transnational crime.

"The 469kg of methamphetamine seized by Customs equates to what would have been at least $235m in revenue to organised crime groups.

The bagged methamphetamine was concealed in motors, with each motor hiding an average of about 8kg. Photo / Customs
The bagged methamphetamine was concealed in motors, with each motor hiding an average of about 8kg. Photo / Customs

"This would have been drawn out of vulnerable communities across New Zealand, going into the pockets of gangs and international syndicates."

Williams said the amount equated to between 22 and 26 weeks' supply of national consumption, according to wastewater analysis figures.

"It would have caused $582m worth of social harm to our communities," he said.

Williams said methamphetamine devastated many vulnerable communities while organised crime groups continued to profit.