Heavyweight boxer Joseph Parker named as sportsperson allegedly linked to international drug ring

After a legal fight lasting almost two years, former world heavyweight boxing champion Joseph Parker can finally be named as the sportsperson alleged to be linked to an international drug conspiracy. 

The Supreme Court has dismissed a final attempt by Parker to keep his name suppressed, saying a court can only make such an order if it is satisfied that publication would cause "undue hardship".

The Supreme Court said even though "there was no dispute" that naming Parker would cause hardship, it was important to do so as any hardship caused did not trump "open justice principles". 

Parker's name was mentioned several times during the May 2019 drug-trafficking trial of Tevita Fangupo, Tevita Kulu and Toni Finau. 

The offending involved the importation of large quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine from California to Auckland, disguised in packages containing Nike sports shoes and clothing. Ring leaders Kulu and Fangupo were jailed for 18 and 17 years respectively.

Parker, 29, was never charged by police, but during the investigation, detectives obtained several encrypted text messages that Crown lawyers said showed Parker was "intimately involved" in helping transfer money for the drug syndicate.

The Crown said other messages showed Parker bought drugs from Finau and offered to obtain drugs for Finau from another source. 

Parker denied this and, in a sworn affidavit, stated: "I have never been involved in the importation of Class A drugs. I have never changed or transported money for the defendants. 

"I have never been involved in the purchase, supply or consumption of methamphetamine."

Police wanted to interview Parker as part of their investigation, but he refused, exercising his right to remain silent. Police also obtained a warrant to search Parker's home, but it was never executed. 

Intercepted messages

During the 2019 trial of those charged, the Crown alleged that Parker helped finance the drug trafficking by exchanging cash into US currency. 

The Court of Appeal laid out the details of the relevant text messages in a Court of Appeal decision on September 2, 2020. 

The judgement shows police obtained information from Kulu's phone, when he was communicating with a Californian contact called 'Coka', using the Viber messaging platform.  

On October 5, 2017, Kulu sent Coka a message that stated: "Alright bro… I got you tho...have all your money… the dude I was with that's on my snapchat is going to change it to US currency.

"They won't question him bout all the money… cause he's the WOB boxing champion so people know he rich anyways so he’ll be good to change it with no hassles." 

Police also found messages on Finau's phone, between him and 'joeparkerboxer'. The pair exchanged messages using the Wickr messaging app between November 9-12, 2017. 

Parker's lawyer accepted this was his client's Wikr account, but noted that it was conceivable that someone else was using it. The Crown said these showed Finau was supplying Parker with methamphetamine and that Parker offered to provide Finau with a source for drugs.

The messages begin with Parker saying he was "in town for [the next] session". He had "300 but boys have the other so let me know when you can get".

The next day, Finau wanted his "coin" and 'joeparkerboxer' responded, saying Finau could get it "anytime bro". 'joeparkerboxer' said he was at home in Mangere East and had "$300 for one bag". 

Parker said the "boys get paid next week, so they'll have $300 for the other one". 

On November 11, 2017, 'joeparkerboxer' asked Finau if he needed "a new contact". 

"Trust me, it's the best stuff out," the user added. 

Finau responded, asking 'joeparkerboxer' "how much for a Q round one".

'Joeparkerboxer replied: "Pound you mean? Q pound or half?" 

Joseph Parker (right) with his world title belt, challenging Anthony Joshua.
Joseph Parker (right) with his world title belt, challenging Anthony Joshua.

Police say "round one" typically means an ounce of methamphetamine and "Q" refers to a quarter ounce. 

'Joeparkerboxer' then gave Finau his contact's details, saying: "He’s a good dude with the best stuff." 

Finau later asked: "Can I get two bags off him BRAH." 

'joeparkerboxer' said he would ask and it was "400 each, but the best I've had". 

A witness in the 2019 trafficking trial also alleged he saw Parker buy "white pills" at some stage during 2017. 

The case for suppression

Parker's final avenue for name suppression was through the Supreme Court, after several other appeals were dismissed, but the Supreme Court also dismissed Parker's application, saying a court can only make such an order, if it is satisfied that publication would cause "undue hardship".

The Supreme Court said there was no dispute that publication would cause undue hardship, but it was not satisfied "in the interests of justice" that suppression should remain in place.

In an earlier judgement, the Court of Appeal said there was a "legitimate public interest attached in knowing allegations against a high-profile person and the fact the police had not considered that charges against him were warranted".  

Why police didn't lay charges

Police say they conducted a "lengthy and thorough" investigation, and found evidence Parker knew the men who were convicted. 

Police obtained a search warrant to seize Parker's cell phone, but Detective Inspector Scott Beard says, at the time the search was to take place, Parker was not home, as he'd travelled overseas. 

"Police made two more attempts to visit his address and also went to a family member's address to try to locate him," Beard says. "The sportsperson engaged legal representation and advised police that no statement would be made."

Police say the Crown Prosecutor advised there was "insufficient evidence" to begin a prosecution against Parker. 

Beard denies Parker got special treatment. 

"The status and profile of this individual did not influence the outcome of the investigation," Beard says.