Amount of meth seized at NZ border jumps 74 percent this year

There's been a dramatic increase in the amount of methamphetamine being seized at New Zealand's borders.

Documents obtained by The AM Show under the Official Information Act show Customs has seized 532kg of the drug at the border so far this year - up 74 percent from 2020.

Last week, 14 people were arrested as part of an investigation into smuggling meth using baggage handlers at Auckland Airport.

That group alone allegedly has, or conspired to, smuggle nearly 500kg of meth into New Zealand.

Customs service manager Bruce Berry said the concern is there may be a lot more being brought in.

"Looking at the seizure statistics… we are probably getting as much as we're missing," he told The AM Show.

He said last year supply chains were badly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and global lockdowns - a possible reason for this year's spike.

"The organised crime groups use the legitimate supply chain to hide and bring in their goods so with that massive disruption [last year], it's only a matter of time before they rebound and that's what we're seeing here.

"They're utilising the fast freight and air freight streams to be able to facilitate their importations. We're still seeing cargo shipments coming through [but] the reality is the vast majority of our drug interceptions are in the mail and air cargo space."

Organised crime groups are seeing New Zealand as an attractive market, Berry said.

"I describe it as the 'push model supply' where they're using their connections with traditional organised crime groups like biker gangs and using those to do distribution.

"Twenty years ago, a kilo coming through the border was huge - now we're routinely seeing multi-hundred kilos.

"The air freight and the courier mail streams are generally smaller quantities - less than 20kg at a time - but it can be impregnated, it can be in liquid suspension, it can be concealed in everyday items, it can be in the lining of boxes so we work really closely with our international partners in identifying trends because these aren't one-off seizures most of the time." 

Sharing information gives authorities the best chance of intercepting drugs at the border, Berry said.

He said organised crime groups weren't interested in anything other than money.

"The damage it's doing to our communities is huge - the damage it's doing to our reputation, our country as a whole is huge so we've got to make real efforts in a whole of Government response in dealing with this.

"We are seeing a steady increase in the seizures and that's fantastic. We're working up the supply chain to stop this stuff [from] even getting to New Zealand."