Alleged drug mule busted at airport

Surgeons have operated on a South African woman who tried to smuggle $1.2 million of heroin pellets into Christchurch hidden inside her body.

The 32-year-old was stopped by Customs staff after arriving at Christchurch Airport showing signs of illness on June 15. She had arrived from Singapore.

"She was found in possession of pellets that tested positive for heroin. She made admissions of internally concealing further pellets," court charging documents said.

Customs says the street value of the heroin, which weighed 1.2 kilograms, was $1.2m. 

The woman had 99 pellets concealed in her luggage, and on and inside her body.

She  required surgery to remove one pellet because of the health risk. 

The woman, a bar worker, is recovering in Christchurch Hospital, where a court hearing was held today.

She was in a wheelchair and had a drip and tubes running into her nose and arm. She was silent during the hearing.

Defence counsel Craig Ruane entered no pleas to the charges the woman faced of possession of heroin for supply and importing a class A drug.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Judge Colin Doherty remanded the woman in custody to appear in court next month.

He granted the woman interim name suppression on the request of Customs, which is still investigating with police.

Customs intelligence, investigations and enforcement manager Chris Howley said the woman had swallowed a "significant" amount of heroin.

"We're talking numerous pellets. We're quoting the street value at $1.2m, depending on purity," he said.

None of the pellets had leaked into her body. She received immediate medical attention, Howley said.

"She was ill; we gave her medical support at the airport."

Her arrest showed normal flight-processing procedures worked.

"We continually assess the risks and are vigilant on behalf of New Zealanders," he said.

Asked if Singapore or South African authorities had been notified, Howley said: "We are an international business and we work closely with other authorities."

In the past year there had been only two drug-smuggling cases nationwide, Howley said.

In March, Brazilian Joao Batista da Silveira was busted by Customs at Auckland International Airport with more than 2 kilograms of cocaine, worth $3.5m, from South America in two suitcases.

He told police he was expecting to be paid NZ$20,000 for his drug-mule efforts on his return to South America.

A subsequent police investigation, dubbed Operation Grenoble, led to the arrest of three Christchurch-based Brazilians.

Thiago August de Oliveira, 31, was charged with possession of cocaine for supply. He will be sentenced on July 30.

Marcos Andre Barbosa, 35, admitted a charge of possession for supply, but denied a charge of importing.

Josue Da Conceicao, 36, is in custody facing charges of importing and possession.

The Press