A former Brisbane Bronco and Tongan league international has been jailed for two-and-a-half years for conspiring to import a massive stash of methamphetamine that never existed.
Former professional sportsman Peter Lawrence Tanginoa appeared for sentence at the High Court in Auckland today with co-offenders Douglas Afeaki and David Mafi.
The trio were part of a five-man group that conspired to import 400kg of methamphetamine from Tonga.
It would have been the biggest single drug importation in New Zealand history but for the fact the drugs never existed and the whole plot was a scam to extract money from the ring-leader, Angus Stafford Naupoto, a former manager of the Tongan rugby team.
Naupoto and William Wolfgramm, a former Tongan league international and player-coach for the Bay Roskill Vikings, pleaded guilty to conspiracy before the other three went to trial and are both serving
Tanginoa, Mafi and Afeaki were found guilty at trial and today were sentenced by Justice Judith Potter.
Tanginoa, who maintained he thought they were importing gold and kava, was sentenced to two years seven months, as was Mafi.
Afeaki, one of the lowest rungs of the plot, was sentenced to 11 months home detention.
The scam began with a group of men in Tonga telling Naupoto they had approximately 400kg of methamphetamine, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, stashed in Nuku'alofa.
Naupoto made a deal with the group to act as an agent and on-sell the drugs in New Zealand and then recruited Wolfgramm, 40, and Tanginoa, 37, to help.
Arrangements were made for a boat skipper to travel to Tonga and then return with the drugs concealed within the craft.
Wolfgramm, a butchery owner from Massey, West Auckland, and Tanginoa, a takeaway bar owner of Western Springs, were tasked with finding a buyer.
As part of ''attracting prospective buyers'' a 20kg sample of methamphetamine was said to have been ferried from Tonga to New Zealand in a boat skippered by a man known only as Johann.
To ensure Johann made the drop, Wolfgramm's gang associate allegedly paid $10,000 sourced from the ''club'', to cover the skipper's expenses.
Communications intercepted between Naupoto and his associates in Tonga, revealed they were supposedly holding the skipper's wife hostage ''as security'' to ensure the methamphetamine sample arrived.
Naupoto unsuccessfully tried to meet Johann on August 1 at Opua Harbour in the Bay of Islands and then had another failed rendezvous took at Gulf Harbour on August 5.
"Johann" feared he was being tailed, so he returned to Tonga.
On August 12 police in Tonga and New Zealand began to have ''grave concerns'' for the safety of the skipper's wife and decided to wrap-up their investigation, ''locate and rescue the skipper's wife and locate
the stockpile of methamphetamine''.
Tongan police then learned the entire case was based on an elaborate hoax - there were no drugs, Johann the skipper didn't exist and no one was being held hostage.
The men were arrested on August 17.
Justice Potter described the men as "naive and inept". Their defence lawyers also highlighted how ham-fisted they were as criminals and how improbable an importation of that size was.
She said the fall from grace was considerable and in Tanginoa's case "the tragedy is particularly acute".
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should we raise the retirement age?