Customs warns organised crime groups trafficking Afghanistan meth, could be targeting New Zealand

Intelligence documents obtained by Newshub reveal a new methamphetamine threat to New Zealand - organised crime groups are using heroin trafficking routes to transport the drug from Afghanistan.

It's the result of a significant shift in drug production in Afghanistan. Afghan poppy farmers who help produce most of the world's heroin are now turning their hand to a different plant.

It's grown to produce a key ingredient used to make meth - and it's cheap and readily available. 

It grows like a weed in arid mountainous areas.

But the seemingly innocuous plant, known as 'Oman' or the 'ephedra' plant, is causing misery not only in Afghanistan itself, but across the globe.

"It's clear that they're starting to grow the main ingredient, the ephedra plant, to facilitate the manufacture of meth," Customs NZ investigations manager Bruce Berry tells Newshub.

When dried, ephedrine can be extracted from the plant.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction spoke to ephedrine cooks in Afganistan who said "this is easy, everyone can learn it".

"The manufacture of meth is a quick and easy supply of money to organised crime groups," Berry says.

And crime groups with links to Afghanistan are looking our way. Using traditional heroin smuggling routes, the raw ephedrine product is trafficked via Pakistan or Iran to India and then on to a number of Southern and Eastern African countries including South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and Mozambique.

From there, the finished Afghan product is being sent to New Zealand.

Mexican crime groups like the Sinaloa cartel have been flooding New Zealand with meth. The Afghan meth presents a new threat.

"It's traditionally been coming from Mexico, from South America. But recent trends have shown it's coming on a different supply route - coming to New Zealand from South Africa and potentially from Afghanistan to South Africa," says Dana McDonald, Customs general manager of intelligence, investigations and enforcement.

In November last year, Customs seized a shipment of statues from South Africa, which included a concrete Rhinoceros filled with five kilos of meth.

Customs has gone from no seizures in 2018, to finding more than 25 kilos out of South Africa last year.

A Customs intelligence report states "the recent increase in methamphetamine seizures may represent meth manufactured in Afghanistan".

It's not just coming in by air, Customs is putting more resources on the water.

"We're throwing as much as we can to keep our borders safe, particularly around the movement of drugs. It's just an ongoing challenge and we just got to stay ahead," says Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri.

Vessels like the just-launched Rapua 2 are being introduced to help stop motherships dropping off drugs around New Zealand.

"Similar sort of thing out of Central America and South America. It's vessels and craft and even submarines being built to smuggle across to Europe. So it's no different here," says Customs maritime unit acting chief officer Nick Sparey.

The key to slowing the flow of meth down is vigilance, intelligence and resources - but the tide of meth coming here won't be one stopping anytime soon.