EQC staff face cocaine-smuggling charges
MARC GREENHILL, CHARLEY MANN AND MICHAEL FIELD
LATEST: The Earthquake Commission (EQC) is auditing all work completed by two Christchurch assessors facing charges related to cocaine-smuggling.
Cameron John Lockie has been charged with cocaine smuggling after attempting to bring in more than $1 million of the class A drug through Auckland International Airport last week.
EQC chief executive Ian Simpson said the organisation would complete an audit of all the commission-related activity Lockie and a second man had been involved with.
"We want to ensure that there was no opportunity for these individuals to have acted dishonestly or inappropriately while carrying out work for EQC."
He said homeowners could be assured field workers were vetted before they were deployed to assess houses for natural-disaster damage.
"EQC needed to get a large workforce on the ground quickly post the September 2010 Canterbury earthquake and sourced contractors from trade organisations or providers with longstanding involvement with EQC,'' he said.
"Post the February earthquake in Canterbury, all staff and contractors were required to sign a declaration that covered off issues such as criminal convictions, and police checks were introduced for all staff and contractors."
Since September 2010, the EQC had "scaled up" in a short period, with more than 2000 people working in Canterbury, Simpson said. The best staff had been kept for ongoing work.
"The nature of our work means that personal integrity is an important quality in the people we have interacting with our customers in their homes," he said.
EQC STAFF ON DRUG CHARGES
Lockie, 34, has been charged with importing and possessing cocaine for supply, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Lockie, a painter from Wanaka, appeared in the Christchurch District Court yesterday.
Lockie is alleged to have imported the cocaine into Auckland on December 13 and to have had possession of it in Christchurch six days later for the purpose of supply.
He entered no plea to the two charges and was bailed to appear on January 17.
David Negrete Nevarez, 43, from Mexico, and Adrian Kemp, 30, of the North Shore, faced the same charges this week.
The other member of the alleged drugs ring, a 26-year-old daughter of an Auckland businessman, has name suppression.
She will reappear in the Manukau District Court on possession and trafficking charges on February 8.
Customs officials found 3.7 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a suitcase allegedly belonging to Nevarez, who had flown to Auckland from Santiago, Chile, on December 13.
'FLIMSY' DRUG IMPORT ATTEMPT
Simple passenger profiling led to the $1.3 million cocaine bust at Auckland International Airport, authorities behind the arrest of an alleged five-person drug syndicate say.
The discovery came as Australian authorities said they had uncovered a cocaine pipeline passing through Tonga that implicates senior politicians.
Most cocaine imported into New Zealand was linked to gangs, but Detective Inspector Bruce Good said last week's 3.7kg haul "was a bit more flimsy than that".
Airport passengers were monitored on December 13 disembarking from a Lan Chile flight from Santiago, Chile, and seen to act in a fashion that drew Customs' attention.
They were searched and cocaine was found in a suitcase.
"It was only slightly sophisticated. It wasn't sitting on top of the bags," Good said.
He said the bust was unusual because of its size.
"We don't normally have significant seizures of cocaine. This is certainly significant in size," he said.
A former drug squad detective, and now chief executive of the Drug Detection Agency, Kirk Hardy, said cocaine importers varied their methods.
"Cocaine is always coming into New Zealand. It tends to fly under the radar because it is an upper-class, white-collar kind of drug," he said.
It seldom showed up in drug testing in the workplace as testing was for safety reasons that mostly involved blue-collar workers.
SOUTH AMERICAN DRUG MULES
Earlier cocaine imports had been carried internally by drug mules from South America.
A 37-year-old Colombian woman died in Auckland Hospital this year after an internally concealed package of cocaine burst inside her. She was carrying more than 20 packages of cocaine worth up to $190,000.
Good said police had long viewed the Pacific Islands as part of the cocaine trade, as revealed last week by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
"We were aware of something along those lines. The Pacific Islands are recognised as staging points."
Last weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald reported an international crime syndicate headed by Colombians allegedly bribed Speaker of the Tongan Parliament Lord Tu'ilakepa as part of a plot to import tonnes of cocaine into Australia.
AFP's Operation Stair uncovered a global trafficking operation that allegedly used yachts to sail cocaine from South America to Tonga.
The drugs were then allegedly smuggled on to container ships and transported to lucrative markets in Australia and China.
The syndicate allegedly bribed Tu'ilakepa to sponsor a Colombian drug boss to travel to Tonga.
Obeil Antonio Zuluaga Gomez wanted to direct an alleged operating hub from Tonga and oversee cocaine shipments.
It is alleged Australians, Tongans, Colombians, Peruvians and West Africans played different roles in the global conspiracy, along with corrupt maritime industry figures.
Assistant commissioner Kevin Zuccato said their operation showed the globalised and technologically savvy threat posed by modern criminal syndicates.
"The fact that you see an organised crime group from Colombia and Peru actively engaged in places like Tonga, and then moving those narcotics to Australia, is just another example of how large and sophisticated these groups are."
Tu'ilakepa was charged with drugs and weapons offences this year, although, until now, his alleged role in the global conspiracy has remained a secret.
He remains a serving MP.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says cocaine is globally worth US$88 billion (NZ$116 billion) a year.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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