New Zealand's cocaine problem blows out

At least 46kg of cocaine was seized from a ship from Chile in November.
At least 46kg of cocaine was seized from a ship from Chile in November. Photo credit: Getty

There are fears New Zealand's cocaine problem is getting worse, as seizures of the Class A drug continue to rise.

Earlier in November at least 46kg of cocaine was seized from a hidden compartment on a ship from Chile to New Zealand.

Customs group manager Jamie Bamford told Newshub there has been "quite a significant increase" in cocaine smuggling over the last three years.

"The organised crime groups and cartels are basically trying to create a cocaine market within New Zealand. New Zealand's a bit of an outlier in that we haven't really got a large cocaine market historically," he says.

"They're pushing larger quantities into New Zealand to be distributed by the gangs, to create an appetite and create a market here."

While larger quantities primarily come out of South America, there has been an increase in smaller packages of one or two grams being smuggled from Europe and North America, likely organised through the Dark Web.

Mr Bamford expressed a concern that cocaine prices might drop in order to increase demand.

"We always remain vigilant as to pricing and supply and demand, so we're concerned obviously by the increases in cocaine being seized."

He says he wouldn't be surprised if Customs seizes more cocaine in the near future, and that they have a "range of tools at our disposal" to prevent the drug from entering the country.

A car seized in relation to money laundering connected to November's $20 million cocaine bust.
A car seized in relation to money laundering connected to November's $20 million cocaine bust. Photo credit: NZ Police

Haimona Gray from the Waitemata District Health Board told Newshub cocaine makes up a "tiny" percentage of drug abuse and dependence in New Zealand.

"It's not really an issue we see a lot, and we're seeing no transit increasing….cocaine's just so rare that we barely see any of it."

In 2016, Community Alcohol and Drugs Services treated 15,207 people for substance abuse or dependence across the greater Auckland area.

Mr Gray says just 25 of those treatments were cocaine-related.

Detective Superintendent Greg Williams told Newshub that police will continue to work alongside Customs to prevent the importation of cocaine.

"Cocaine is one of a number of illegal drugs which trans-national organised crime groups use to make profit across New Zealand," he says.

"Members of these crime groups use and exploit vulnerable members of our communities in order to distribute their product and make their money."

Following a five-month investigation, four people have been arrested over November's $20 million cocaine bust - two Australians, a Croatian and a Serbian national.

They have been remanded in custody and are due back in court December 4.

"These arrests have dismantled a trans-national crime syndicate, attempting to profit from a drug that would have caused a great deal of harm within our communities," says Police assistant commissioner Richard Chambers. 

"During the course of the inquiry, evidence has also been uncovered of a sophisticated money-laundering operation, sending hundreds of thousands of dollars out of New Zealand, through international criminal money remitters. 

"Inquiries continue and I am confident that further arrests will be made as evidence is uncovered, assessed and actioned."