Once nothing more than a mystery caller on the end of the phone line, the man who smuggled methamphetamine from Mexico into New Zealand for the Comancheros gang will now serve a long prison sentence.
Tallat Rahman, a 60-year-old Fijian from Suva, pleaded guilty to four charges of importing a Class A drug after being identified in Operation Nova, a covert investigation targeting members of the Comancheros and their associates.
He was arrested in February last year in the first phase of the inquiry, which discovered how parcels of methamphetamine weighing up to 5kg were hidden inside kitchen appliances shipped from the United States.
Once in New Zealand, the police allege the drugs were distributed by "frontmen" for the Comancheros, whose hierarchy allegedly reaped the rewards of the illicit trade.
Senior members of the Comancheros, the "frontmen", as well as those who allegedly helped them launder the profits - including an accountant, a media personality and an Auckland lawyer - were arrested in April last year.
Rahman was unknown to the team of detectives running Operation Nova until he was overheard talking to one of the "frontmen", who cannot be named for legal reasons, whose phone conversations were bugged by police.
He said: "You're going to start off with a nice number with two zeroes. I'm going to land it between you and me…[I'll give you] all the f***en work you can handle. We're going to land it there [in New Zealand]."
The cheap wholesale price of $120,000 per kilogram was agreed to by both parties, in a deal the police believed would weigh at least 100kg ("a nice number with two zeros").
The call was made in Mexico and the caller was identified as Tallat Rahman; a Fijian-Indian who lived in Suva, who had dual Canadian citizenship and travelled regularly to Mexico and the United States.
More conversations were intercepted by the police but nothing came of the promised 100kg-plus shipment.
Everything went quiet until Rahman flew into Auckland International Airport on December 18, 2018, and checked into a hotel on Queen St, the Four Points by Sheraton.
Three days later, Rahman's son checked into the same hotel and was seen meeting with another man, a 19-year-old Mexican national, who also cannot be identified for legal reasons.
Two days before Christmas, December 23, 2018, Rahman left New Zealand but not before receiving a backpack full of cash.
Around the same time, a consignment of a kitchen stovetop shipped from the United States had been seized by Customs and examined. There was nearly 5kg of methamphetamine inside.
Then in February 2019, two separate consignments from the United States - a "waffle maker" and "coffee brewer"- were stopped at the border by Customs, each containing 2.9kg of methamphetamine.
Rahman returned to New Zealand and was arrested by the National Organised Crime Group, along with the 19-year-old from Mexico and a 33-year-old Chinese man called Hui Wang. He was called the "Wire Guy" because he laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in wire transfers overseas.
Search warrants were also executed at the home linked to Rahman in Suva where Fijian Police discovered 39kg of cocaine, presumably destined for the Australian and New Zealand markets. The haul was worth about $20 million.
When brought in for questioning by police, Rahman claimed to be in New Zealand on holiday.
When detectives told him that an audio device had been covertly installed in his hotel room on Queen St, Rahman said: "Oh shit."
He was sentenced to 16 years in prison after appearing in the Auckland District Court today.
His sentencing comes a month after a Sydney hairdresser was jailed for a $1 million drug conspiracy with the Comancheros.
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He Sha was identified in the same National Organised Crime Group investigation last year and was caught talking about the drug deal on an audio device covertly hidden inside a car.
Sha was sentenced to three years one month in prison for the conspiracy to supply the Class B drug pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the recipe to manufacture methamphetamine.
This year, the gang's vice-president, Tyson Daniels, and lawyer Andrew Simpson were jailed for laundering millions of dollars of Comancheros cash.
One transaction involved A$32,000 deposited into Simpson's trust account by alleged Sydney-based drug dealer Valovalo Peter Vaiusu, who was the subject of a New South Wales police investigation.
Vaiusu was arrested after stepping off a plane from New Zealand and is allegedly connected to a Sydney storage unit where bags of cash, 13 firearms - including five AR-15 semi-automatic rifles - and several kilograms of cocaine and meth were found.
Daniels and Simpson pleaded guilty to money laundering charges as nearly $1.3 million in cash was deposited into the lawyer's trust account, which was then used to purchase expensive cars and property.
For Daniels alone, there were four Range Rovers - with price tags of $175,000, $255,000, $218,000 and $280,000 - a $200,000 Mercedes-Benz, a Lamborghini for $285,000, and two Rolls-Royces, which cost $364,000 and $595,000.
The luxury fleet was seized in April 2019 when Operation Nova terminated. Just one month after his arrest, Daniels purchased another Mercedes-Benz for $215,000 while he was on bail and another $247,000 was found in the home.
More than 80 police officers were involved in the raids, which also led to about $4m of assets being seized, including firearms and several luxury vehicles such as a Rolls-Royce Wraith and gold-plated Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Others, such as gang president Pasilika Naufahu, have pleaded not guilty to drug and money laundering charges and will stand trial in September.
The police allege the Comancheros, an Australian motorcycle gang which set up shop in New Zealand after a number of senior members were deported here, are behind significant drug smuggling linked to a Mexican cartel.
Just last week, a patched Comanchero, an associate and a car dealer were arrested and charged with money laundering and participating in an organised criminal group.
The trio was arrested at the termination of a new investigation, Operation Rider, in which five luxury vehicles - including a rare limited edition G-Class Mercedes Benz wagon worth $250,000 - were restrained by police.
Law enforcement and local gangs predicted the arrival of the "501" deportees - so nicknamed because of the "character grounds" section of the immigration law used to remove them from Australia - would lead to increased gang conflict.
Another Australian gang, the Mongols, was targeted in a separate NOCG investigation in the Bay of Plenty last week.
Evidence collected in Operation Silk alleges the Mongols were involved in at least six shootings with other gangs, and the police claimed to have prevented other instances of armed conflict.