Drug cartels will continue shipping drugs to New Zealand as it's a lucrative market, says former intelligence agent

A former intelligence agent says drug cartels will continue to ship drugs into New Zealand despite authorities seizing half a billion dollars worth of cocaine because it's a lucrative market. 

About 3.2 tonnes were found "afloat" in the Pacific Ocean in recent weeks and have since been transported back to New Zealand for destruction. 

"This is one of the single biggest seizures of illegal drugs by authorities in this country," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said in a statement. 

"While this disrupts the syndicate's operations, we remain vigilant given the lengths we know these groups will go to circumvent coming to law enforcement's attention."

The statement added the shipment originated from South America and was likely destined for Australia. No charges have been laid in relation to the seizure and investigations are ongoing.

Stewart Scott, a former intelligence agent, security analyst and now vice president of intelligence at TorchStone Global, told AM on Thursday the New Zealand and Australian markets are high-risk but high reward for drug cartels. 

"When we're talking about the loss, the loss is really the profits there, more so than that initial investment … and because of the difficulty of getting it there, it also leads to the economics of the high price," Scott told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green. 

"They're going to take a lot more chances to try to get it to fulfil that demand because selling one kilogram there is like selling maybe 100kgs in the United States."

Former intelligence agent Stewart Scott.
Former intelligence agent Stewart Scott. Photo credit: AM

Scott, who has a background in assessing Mexico's evolving cartels and worked during the height of the drug war surge investigating the likes of Pablo Escobar, said cocaine has become the club drug of choice in New Zealand and the economics are fueling the drug trafficking. 

"The large organised crime groups that engage in that size of a shipment, they kind of expect to take some losses and that's kind of written into their business plan if you will," he told AM.

"Somebody may have to pay the price for this loss load in the hierarchy somewhere, but it's just seen as the price of doing business. They lose one load here but perhaps they get three or four loads through."

Some of the drug bails had pictures of bats and four-leaf clovers on them, which Scott believes will help authorities catch who sent the illegal drugs.

"So generally the stamps on the kilos will kind of show the ownership and kind of who purchased and who that particular kilo belonged to," Scott explained. 

"Through investigation on the ground, in places like Australia, they should be able to figure out which syndicates owned which of those bricks. 

"It also shows who's working together in those kinds of multiple loads if it's different stamps there. So they'll be able to put those pieces together based upon what they found out from previous investigations."

Drug cartels will continue shipping drugs to New Zealand as it's a lucrative market, says former intelligence agent
Photo credit: New Zealand Police/Supplied

He said it's all conjecture about the number of illegal drugs intercepted by authorities before they get into New Zealand but he believes it would be less than 10 percent. 

"It's very conjecture, I would say that would probably be the high end - something like 10 percent, but it's hard to quantify," he said.

"It's one of those things when you see the destruction and you see the results of these drugs on people and the very real consequences they have for families, for lives, it helps you understand why you need to continue that struggle. You just can't allow them to rampage through society."

Watch the full interview with Stewart Scott above.