Ninety Mile Beach meth bust: Stevie Cullen speaks out for first time to Patrick Gower

Convicted methamphetamine importer Stevie Cullen is speaking out for the first time about his involvement in the Ninety Mile Beach drug bust.

In 2016, a ship from Asia arrived off the coast of Northland with 501kg of meth on board. A Kiwi crew was there to meet the smugglers, but the operation was a disaster and resulted in New Zealand's biggest P bust.

Cullen was convicted of importing meth and being part of an organised criminal group. He was sentenced to 27 years in jail in 2019 and has never talked about what happened - until now.

Cullen, speaking to Patrick Gower as part of his documentary Patrick Gower: On P from the Northland Region Corrections Facility in Ngawha, says he ended up in jail following "some bad life choices".

He grew up in Palmerston North and was a good student, but he had a rebellious streak. He moved to Christchurch and developed a passion for amateur theatre and roleplay gaming, especially Star Wars.

He says he became involved with the biggest meth importation in history just by chance.

"It was a one-off opportunity to set my life in a direction I wanted it to go in. I'm not a gangster, I don't affiliate with gangs or anything like that."

But in 2016, Cullen made a decision to join the dark side.

He says police described him as the logistics man, but he believes he was the problem solver. Yet in the end, there were too many problems to solve.

First, a bungled boat launch saw locals come to help. They then had to buy another boat, which they did with $98,000 cash in a shoebox, raising even more red flags.

Stevie Cullen.
Stevie Cullen. Photo credit: Three

Cullen agrees that the operation was pretty ropey.

"Everything that could've gone wrong went wrong."

He says he did it because he wanted to start a winery on family land in Hawke's Bay, and this was his opportunity to fund it.

But he didn't confirm how much money he could've made from the imported meth, only saying it "would've been enough".

"On the street, [it would've been worth] up to $500 million, and I only know that from the disclosure that was presented by the police."

But greed got the better of him. With a five-gram teaspoon of meth enough to get a conviction for supply, 501kg meant Cullen would face a massive sentence.

Cullen says he's known a few people who were addicted to meth, and while he hasn't personally seen the impact of it on their lives, he's aware of it.

"You have to understand that far more than [the 501kg smuggled] is coming out all the time. The international drug cartels, they all work together to move drugs around the world," he says.

"For years and years before, shipments of this size were coming into New Zealand and continue to come into New Zealand."

Cullen says he's "definitely not" a "scumbag" that wanted to bring harm to the community.

"I am somebody that has tried to exist in life, didn't get there, and tried to find a way out of that and failed."

Watch Patrick Gower: On P on ThreeNow.