Drugs hidden in airport for four years

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2013

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Two Wellington men avoided arrest for several years after hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs were hidden in a secure area at Auckland Airport.

However, nearly four years later, a 220-gram package of methamphetamine - worth up to $1000 a gram - was discovered in the Customs-controlled area of the airport.

Police claim forensic testing and other evidence link the stash to Anthony Brian Newton, 54, and Dinesh Kumar Manoharan, 36, who now face charges relating to those drugs.

Customs admitted to The Dominion Post yesterday that the drugs were found hidden in an area it controlled. It would not say where or how they were hidden.

Now Labour's Customs spokesman is questioning how the slip-up could have happened. "We take great pride in the safety and security of our borders - it's a lot of our international reputation," Mana MP Kris Faafoi said. "They have to be watertight, but in this instance it appears they weren't."

Customs said it had reviewed its procedures after the incident, but did not say how. "It is clear that both Customs and NZ Police believe that the two offenders are directly responsible for these drugs being placed within the airport," a Customs spokeswoman said.

Staff questioned the two men separately in February 2009 after they went through Customs independently, she said. Both men "presented specific risk indicators on the day". Police have said the two men were stopped because it was suspected they were importing drugs.

They were allowed to walk free because Customs found no "evidence or basis" to detain them. Police and Customs then tracked the pair for some time before the hidden drugs were found at Auckland Airport last November, Detective Senior Sergeant Warwick McKee said.

Newton appeared in Wellington District Court yesterday on two charges relating to the importation of drugs and one of possession. He is due in court again next week.

Manoharan is scheduled to appear in court on Friday on similar charges.

Mr Faafoi said last night the apparent slip-up by Customs was both "peculiar and disappointing". He assumed Customs-controlled areas would be swept regularly for drugs and other banned goods and could not understand why the stash stayed hidden for so long.

"This is a mistake . . . We will be asking questions, and I think it's fair enough they get asked."

Customs Minister Maurice Williamson could not be reached for comment last night.

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- The Dominion Post

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