In his heyday, Xavier Valent travelled the world pulling the strings of a syndicate that flooded New Zealand with meth and other drugs.
Now the 34-year-old, who spent time at Auckland Grammar before he graduated from small-time dealer to a modern-day Mr Asia, has been handed a life sentence.
It is one of just three life sentences handed down in New Zealand for meth-related offending.
Valent learned his fate at his sentencing hearing before Justice Sally Fitzgerald in the Auckland High Court on Friday morning.
Crown prosecutor Fiona Culliney said the sheer quantity of meth and other drugs brought into New Zealand by Valent’s syndicate - believed to be at least hundreds of kilograms - was without legal precedent.
The only busts of a similar magnitude, such as the Ninety Mile Beach racket where 449kg of methamphetamine was found, involved authorities finding the drugs before they hit the streets.
Not so with the operation masterminded by Valent, who was in every sense a kingpin, Culliney said.
“Lives were ruined, families were destroyed, and all at the hands of Mr Valent,” she said.
The vulnerable, often drug-addicted people he roped into his syndicate as minions were also victims, she said.
At his trial, a jury heard he ruled with an iron fist as he dispatched orders each day to workers who would undertake up to 20 deliveries per day.
Valent fled overseas in 2016 and continued to grow his operation while living a high-flying lifestyle in Europe, Asia and the Americas. He co-ordinated the importation of the drugs via the courier system into New Zealand.
A single money remitter in Auckland sent $26 million in drug profit to Valent, Culliney said.
As a result, the only possible starting point was life in prison, she said.
Justice Fitzgerald presided over Valent’s marathon six-week trial this year, where a jury returned guilty verdicts on dozens of charges covering the importation, manufacture and supply of a range of Class A and B drugs including meth, MDMA, cocaine and meth precursor ephedrine.
He was found not guilty on a handful of charges, dwarfed by the unanimous guilty verdicts.
At Friday’s sentencing, a few jurors returned to court and watched the hearing from the public gallery.
Culliney cited a slew of aggravating factors, including the six-year prison term he had already served for drug dealing after his arrest aged about 20 for smaller scale supply.
Messages to subordinates showed Valent boasting of his time in prison, termed “university” in the underworld.
He made vital connections in prison with a man who would go on to be a lieutenant in his burgeoning drug ring after his release from prison about eight years ago, and before he fled the country as authorities closed in on his nascent operation.
“He was in fact proud, it seems, of his history of offending.”
As he heard the arguments at sentencing, Valent sat in the dock wearing a mask and grey T-shirt, appearing impassive and looking around the court.
A lawyer assisting Valent, Nick Leader, accepted a starting point of life in prison was inevitable. Valent opted to represent himself with Leader and Sumudu Thode appointed amicus curiae to assist him, though they acted as his de facto legal team. He did not appear in the witness box nor speak during the trial, aside from a brief outburst on day one when he declared proceedings illegitimate.
But Leader said the court had the option of stepping back from the life sentence and imposing a finite sentence and should do so.
From an early age Valent had difficulties with misbehaviour, Leader said.
“This is a very intelligent, capable man with talents,” Leader said.
“It’s regrettable that if there had been some form of intervention at an earlier stage he may have taken a different path.”
Leader asked for a finite sentence that would not be “crushing” and would allow him to one day re-enter society.
“It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, as opposed to the crushing sentence of life imprisonment.”
Valent has spent about two years in segregation in prison, at times in the Prisoners of Extreme Risk Unit (PERU) in Auckland’s Paremoremo.
Justice Fitzgerald said the representative charges he was convicted of covered 85-95kg of methamphetamine, 3kg of cocaine and at least 43.5kg of MDMA.
But this was only a portion of the drugs his syndicate brought into the country, which would have run into the hundreds of kilograms, Justice Fitzgerald said.
The Judge said Valent continued to deny his offending and maintained he was in the cryptocurrency business, the same story he spun to explain his wealth and globetrotting lifestyle while he ran the syndicate from 2016 to 2020 from overseas.
Justice Fitzgerald said there was no question Valent was at the top of the syndicate and must have had close links to the original sources of the drugs. How exactly Valent sourced the masses of drugs remains unclear.
She cited the havoc meth wrought on the community as a factor in her sentencing, particularly addiction, suffering and violent crime.
Justice Fitzgerald said Valent - then Harry Whitehead - was given a warning 13 years ago in the same court by Justice Graham Lang at his sentencing for earlier drug dealing, that further crimes could bring a life sentence.
As a result, and with the other aggravating factors, Justice Fitzgerald said a starting point of a life sentence was appropriate.
She traversed mitigating factors put before the court, such as the time he had spent in state care, his unsettled upbringing, his exclusion from several schools and estrangement from his father.
But Justice Fitzgerald said none of that convinced her to step back from a life sentence.
Justice Fitzgerald sentenced him to life in prison, but said she was unable to impose any minimum period of imprisonment on a life sentence for crimes except for murder.
The life sentence has an automatic minimum non-parole period of 10 years.
Terrique Treasurer, nicknamed “Gold” and for a time a key worker in his syndicate, stood trial alongside Valent and was found guilty on one representative charge each of supplying meth, MDMA and ephedrine.
He was identified at trial by fellow former Valent minions, who had turned Crown witnesses.
Treasurer was acquitted on charges of assisting in manufacturing meth and of supplying cocaine.
Witnesses repeatedly described him as a friendly and trustworthy person. He stepped back from the syndicate when he found out he had a young child on the way, got himself clean from meth and extricated himself from the drug scene.
Treasurer was sentenced first. His family, including his mother and siblings - one of whom had flown from Los Angeles - watched from the gallery. A few members of the jury returned to watch the sentencing.
Crown prosecutor Fiona Culliney sought a minimum period of imprisonment of at least 40 per cent of his sentence, with a starting point of 12 years in prison.
However, Culliney acknowledged Treasurer had good character references, a supportive family and had successfully kicked a bad methamphetamine addiction.
His lawyer Ian Tucker sought discounts for remorse and addiction.
Justice Fitzgerald said the evidence showed Treasurer was only involved in the syndicate for, at most, about two years.
But it also showed he dealt with at least 2kg of methamphetamine for the syndicate, probably more, and would have some idea of the scale of the syndicate, Justice Fitzgerald said
The Judge adopted a starting point of 11 years in prison on all charges. When Treasurer heard this his head dropped.
Justice Fitzgerald said she could not reduce his sentence for previous good character, because of his prior convictions for possessing meth and a pistol.
Material provided to the court including a cultural report and character references painted a picture of a man who had a promising start in life as his family emigrated to New Zealand from South Africa. He was deputy head boy of his college and was academically successful.
“The overall theme is of a kind, generous and humorous son, brother and friend,” the Judge said.
Justice Fitzgerald applied a 20 per cent discount for the fact he was addicted to meth at the time of his offending, having fallen into addiction after a car crash, and 10 per cent for his remorse and “excellent prospects” of rehabilitation, leading to a total end sentence of seven years eight months, concurrent on all charges, with no minimum period of imprisonment.
Valent was only able to be brought to trial after years of work by National Organised Crime Group investigators, led by Detective Sergeants John Sowter and Angela Waugh.
The saga began when Valent, formerly Harry Whitehead, fled overseas in 2016 as Customs closed in on his nascent drug importation syndicate.
Some of his minions were arrested but Valent managed to grow the syndicate overseas, continuing to source ever-increasing amounts of drugs, slipping them through the courier system into New Zealand.
His workers in New Zealand, among them Treasurer with whom he stood trial, distributed the drugs. He went on to organise a meth-cooking operation using imported ephedrine that ran out of a shack near the Northland town of Whangaruru with the help of an expert meth cook known as “Aussie Dave”.
During the trial, the jury heard from former Valent drug operatives turned co-operating witnesses, who described living in fear of Valent as they made more than a dozen drug deliveries per day.
They received a list of orders each day via encrypted messaging app Wickr, in some cases undertaking armed drug runs to the South Island, returning with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Valent ruled with an iron fist and subjected his workers to polygraph lie detector tests to work out who was stealing from him.
The man who administered the tests gave evidence of one terrified worker turning up and realising the man was carrying a gun.
Other colourful evidence included postcards Valent sent to a worker from the Maldives promising similar riches. The court also heard Valent lived by the “10 crack commandments” set out in a song by American rapper Notorious BIG as rules for drug dealing.
His syndicate began to crumble as his often drug-addicted workers made mistakes, were caught by police then were quickly turned by detectives, receiving lighter sentences and immunity from some charges in exchange for co-operation.
Valent’s life on the lam came to an end when New Zealand police were able to obtain an Interpol notice against his name and he was arrested at the Italian border after landing on a flight from Hong Kong via Istanbul.
He was eventually extradited to New Zealand.
Such was Valent’s ability to influence others, he was kept in the Prisoners of Extreme Risk Unit inside Paremoremo, reserved for the most dangerous prisoners.
The Herald was the only media present in court for Valent and Treasurer’s extraordinary trial. Read our full trial coverage here:
- Xavier Valent, former Auckland Grammar boy, found guilty of being kingpin of international drug cartel
- Auckland Grammar boy turned alleged cartel boss - derelict Northland shack key to meth ring revealed
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- Xavier Valent trial: Woman tells court how she became minion of alleged Kiwi drug kingpin
- Xavier Valent trial: Alleged Kiwi cartel boss to deny he was the ‘Don’ of syndicate
- Alleged Kiwi drug cartel kingpin Xavier Valent’s trial - accomplices turn witnesses, fiery outburst in court