Police bust drugs ring, find stolen carving

TALIA SHADWELL AND KAROLINE TUCKEY
Last updated 16:45 19/06/2014
LUKAS HAYWARD/Stuff.co.nz

Twenty one people have been arrested and various weapons seized in a series of busts targeting the Wellington region's drugs trade.

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Police raiding a central Wellington apartment were confronted by men lying on high-powered rifles in a drugs operation that has netted bounty including a carving stolen from Te Papa museum.

Swords, and the rifles and a $3000 Maori carving thought to have been stolen from the museum's gift shop were seized after a week-long series of busts targeting drugs and organised crime.

Twenty one people were arrested and various weapons seized in a series of busts targeting the Wellington region's drugs trade.

No one was injured nor guns fired in the confrontation at the Wellington apartment, Detective Inspector Darrin Thomson said. High powered rifles and hollow-point ammunition were seized from the address, he said. He would not say which apartment but confirmed it was not Chews Lane or Century City - sites of two high profile drugs busts which drew public attention.

Drugs seized during the execution of 29 search warrants in the region included methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, synthetic GBL, MDMA and cannabis.

Some of the arrests related to drugs being imported via the internet. Thomson said three or four more arrests are expected and four children between 3 months to 16-years of age had been referred to Child, Youth and Family.

A $300,000 house in the northern Wellington suburb of Tawa was among the assets restrained.

Police said they had seized $20,000 worth of methamphetamine and a large number of swords from one property in Wellington city.

The 21 people including three women arrested were aged between 21 and 52, who will be appearing before the courts on charges of drug dealing, receiving stolen property, and possession of firearms.

Referring to the Maori carving, Thomson said it showed what kinds of "commodities" were being traded in exchange for drugs.

The police operation spanned Wellington, Porirua, Tawa, the Kapiti Coast and the Hutt Valley.

Six Kapiti houses were raided and five arrests made as part of a large police sting targeting internet drug importers.

Thomson said another person is still to be located in connection to the Kapiti raids, which netted class A drugs methamphetamine and cocaine, and GBL, a class B-controlled drug. 

LSD, MDMA and cannabis were also seized throughout the region, and quantities were still being calculated by police staff. 

''[In Kapiti] charges related range from importing cocaine to the possession of instruments, so that's from one end of the scale to the other," said Thomson.  

Two houses were raided in Waikanae, two in Raumati, one in Paraparaumu and one in Otaihanga. Armed offenders squad members took part, along with customs, SPCA and Kapiti Coast District Council staff. 

Thomson said it was an extensive operation designed to make an impact on the illicit trafficking in drugs and weapons, and associated crime.

Police were alarmed to find a cache of firearms at a property. "We are very concerned at the joint seizures of drugs and firearms which have the very real potential to lead to tragedy," he said.

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"The fact that we've got firearms with drugs - if you're taking drugs and using firearms at the end of the day it can only end in tragedy. That's a significant risk for the police staff going through the doors on behalf of the community and it's a significant risk for the community when those firearms are out there."

Six of the arrests were in relation to the importation of methamphetamine, cocaine and other drugs via the internet. Thomson said the arrests should send a warning to people thinking of ordering drugs online, saying the trade was being actively monitored. 

"Over the past few days we have seen a number of people who would not fit the usual profile of a drug importer get themselves caught up in serious offending.

"This has had a devastating impact on their families."

More than 60 staff from Wellington District Police and Customs were involved in 'Operation Python'.

A significant quantity of stolen property was also seized,  including a large number of swords, and a collection of firearms. A Taser, a restricted weapon, was found at a Kapiti property, Thomson said. 

The operation had been three months in the planning, based on police and customs intelligence that tracked a number of drug importation operations into New Zealand from internet sources. 

Overseas sources of the drugs were widespread, but mainly from European countries, Thomson said. 

Police and customs actively investigate importation of restricted goods via the internet, he warned. 

''People may think it is somehow anonymous, but we can assure you that this technique is being actively monitored.'' 

Some of those involved were not people who would normally be connected with this type of offending, he said. 

''Their families clearly haven't known what they've been doing, and the impact on the family when they've found out has been destroying to those relationships. 

''These types of charges mean you may go to jail and it may impact your employment and your overseas travel, and relationships with family members and your relationships with people in the community.''

- Wellington

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