Huge drug haul after 18 month investigation
Police Minister Anne Tolley says a massive drugs haul today is "one of the most significant busts that we've seen in New Zealand".
Police have netted enough materials to make $100 million of P after raids across Waikato and Auckland this morning, in the culmination of an 18-month investigation name Operation Ghost.
Police working with the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand (OFCANZ) seized more than 330kg of the class B drug ContacNT.
ContacNT is manufactured legally in China but is used in New Zealand to produce methamphetamine.
Enough of the precursor material was seized to produce up to 100 kilograms of methamphetamine, police said.
Two hundred and fifty officers executed 40 search warrants at residential and business addresses across Auckland and Waikato.
Twenty-four people were arrested and up to $20 million of assets seized including property, cars and cash.
Tolley said she did not have any details of how the operation was carried out, but was given a "heads up" yesterday that it was happening.
"I understand there were over 200 police involved throughout the country with the search warrants and the arrests, and about 24 people have been arrested."
She said it sent a "very strong" message to the criminal community.
"The combined forces of law and order are watching them and are able to carry out very successful operations and stop them."
Tolley hoped the bust would also have a significant impact on the methamphetamine market.
"This is a large amount of methamphetamine pre-cursors and this is part of that ongoing focus that we've had on it.
"Methamphetamine is a terrible drug, it destroys people's lives and it destroys brain cells, it's a horrible drug and it does enormous damage and we're determined to get on top of it in New Zealand."
Customs Minister Maurice Williamson has also hailed the operation.
"The methamphetamine that could have been made from it was worth about $100 million. Ginormous volumes in terms of kilograms - 300 or so kilograms.
"We often intercept of the nature of one or two kg of this stuff through mail centres and so on, so Operation Ghost has been a fantastic operation."
The operation sent a strong message to the criminal community: "You want to play this game [and] we catch you, boy, you play really big stakes or you pay a really big price for it", Williamson said.
Ministers were not told of the details of the operation until the last minute.
"You have to keep this stuff exceedingly tight, because if it starts to leak out then individuals involved will go to ground very quickly."
The biggest year for ContacNT was two years ago, Williamson said.
"We intercepted just over 1000kg for the entire year. So this is [more than] 300kg in one hit."
He was reluctant to say whether the haul was indicative of more ContacNT being brought into the country.
"We never know that, because we never know what we never know. So we just have to be eternally vigilant.
"We watch the street price very carefully because that's a good indicator. If there's a whole lot of stuff flooding the market, the street price drops.
"If we're really throttling off the supply the street price goes up."
Today's raids followed the seizure of 267kg of ContacNT in Auckland as part of the investigation in October. Four people were arrested.
An additional 64 kilograms of ContacNT was discovered this morning.
Assistant Commissioner Malcolm Burgess expected the impact on the drug market to be significant.
"Police and OFCANZ have eliminated a criminal network responsible for importing and distributing Class0-B drugs which are used to produce methamphetamine," Burgess said.
"Operation Ghost sends a powerful message to the criminal community that we will use every legal avenue at our disposal to target organised crime in New Zealand."
Today's sting was the conclusion of an extensive multi-agency investigation.
"Operation Ghost is an example of national and international law enforcement agencies working together to target international organised crime groups," Burgess said.
"The investigation has seen excellent cooperation with other Government agencies, particularly the Ministry for Primary Industries, the New Zealand Customs Service, IRD, MBIE and the Department of Internal Affairs."
"We would also like to acknowledge the National Narcotics Control Commission from the Peoples Republic of China and the Hong Kong Narcotics Bureau for their help during Operation Ghost."
The 24 arrested this morning were all New Zealand citizens or permanent residents.
In total 30 people have been arrested during Operation Ghost and further arrests were likely.