Million-dollar drug scheme

BIG FIND: Some of the drug haul captured by police.
BIG FIND: Some of the drug haul captured by police.

A ninth person has appeared in court over a multi-million dollar drug ring that allegedly used "military grade" encryption to hide their communications and smuggle drugs into the country.

The man, born in the Philippines, appeared at the Auckland District Court today and was granted interim name suppression to protect his right to a fair trial and business interests.

He was bailed to an Otahuhu address on the condition he surrendered his passport by 4pm and did not associate with any of the co-accused.

The man was charged with participating in an organised criminal group, selling the drug BK-MDEA and 4-MEC and two charges of selling N-Ethylamphetamine.

He has interim suppression until Friday and will re-appear in the court with his co-accused on September 18.

Eight others charged in connection with the alleged drug ring appeared in court yesterday charged with being part of an organised criminal group that smuggled millions of dollars of amphetamine and ecstasy "analogues" into New Zealand.

Analogues are drugs that mimic the effect of common street drugs but have altered structures to avoid being classed as illegal.

The group also collectively faced more than 100 charges of possessing and importing class B and C drugs for supply.

Several of the group obtained interim name suppression but those that can be named include Michael Gerard Hall, 53, Simon David McKinley, 28, Brendon Nguyen, 33.

The four un-named people include a 51-year-old Glen Eden woman, a 59-year-old man from Greenlane, a 38-year-old man from Coatesville and a 46-year-old Englishman who lives in the central city.

The Coatesville man was said to run the drug ring while the Englishman was known by the others as "the Banker".

Police opposed bail for the Banker saying they had intercepted a conversation in which he discussed having a safe-deposit box with money and passports with which he would flee the country if the police closed in.

Judge McNaughton declined his bail saying police alleged the Banker had used "encrypted emails, military grade encryption on his phone and Skype to communicate with people overseas".

He was alleged to have advised the others on laundering money and setting up off-shore accounts and police said he could interfere with the freezing of assets.

Bail was declined, despite the Banker pleading that he was the sole carer of his five-year-old daughter.

All were remanded to a plea inquiry date on September 18 though those with name suppression will return to court on September 7 to argue to keep their names secret.

One other person was due to appear in the Napier District Court yesterday.

Police said some of the group were already on drugs charges from a separate police bust - Operation Ark - in November.

During the raids, police seized several thousand pills and 3kg of ingredients to make drugs along with $100,000 cash and four vehicles.

The drug offending targeted involved multi-million dollar sales, with one dealer buying $4.5m worth of pills from a New Zealand importer, Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Cahill said.

Cahill said the operation was a result of concerns throughout New Zealand over the increased supply of ecstasy-type pills.

"There is a lot of ignorance amongst users of these drugs, about what the pills contain and the level of danger associated with using them,"
he said.

"Today's activity will have an impact on the supply of harmful drugs that are regularly leading to hospital admissions."

Drugs identified during the raids include ecstasy analogues 4-MEC, bk-MDEA, Alpha-PVP and N-Ethlamphetamine.

Cahill said the syndicate was sourcing the drugs in powder form from China and Singapore.

Drug importers are constantly altering the chemical make-up of drugs to circumvent the law and avoid detection, he said.

"Legislation relating to analogues under the Misuse of Drugs Act has proved invaluable in combating this offending. The lack of such legislation in other countries has impacted on law enforcement's ability to combat so-called designer drugs worldwide," he said.

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