Cocaine-accused Kiwis in cruise clash

MICHAEL DALY
Last updated 11:29 17/02/2012

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An "altercation" brought a New Zealand couple to the attention of US law enforcement officials investigating the discovery of cocaine on a cruise ship docked in San Francisco.

New Zealanders Tony Earl Wilkinson, 42, and Kirsty Harris, 25, were passengers on the P&O cruise ship Aurora when they were arrested in San Francisco on January 25 after 5.8kg of cocaine was allegedly found in their cabin.

Before their cabin was searched, officials had already searched the cabin of another passenger, Australian Ahmed Rachid, 27. He was also arrested after 7.9kg cocaine was allegedly found in his cabin.

Homeland Security Investigations special agent Craig Hyatt said in an affidavit that after the seizure of cocaine from Rachid, agents had learned he had a possible association with Wilkinson and Harris.

"Officers and agents learned from ship personnel that Rachid recently had an altercation with another passenger onboard who was later determined to be Harris," agent Hyatt said.

Rachid also told agents that while he was sightseeing in Curacao on January 16, he had been approached by a Hispanic male, with whom he had arranged to transport cocaine to Australia.

Rachid had said that he had arranged that, on his arrival in Sydney, he would be paid for transporting the cocaine after contacting an associate of the Hispanic male.

He told agents he had smuggled seven bundles of cocaine to his cabin without any incident. In his cabin he had placed all the seven bundles in his suitcase, which he locked.

Hyatt said that when officers and agents went to the cabin on the Aurora where Wilkinson and Harris were staying, they had been met by Wilkinson who appeared to be holding drug paraphernalia.

"Wilkinson then attempted to shut the cabin door on the officers while simultaneously opening the cabin bathroom door, temporarily blocking the main cabin door," Hyatt said.

"Agents heard the bathroom faucet turn on and observed Wilkinson rinsing what appeared to be drug paraphernalia in the sink."

During a search of the cabin a set of keys was found concealed in a light fixture.

The keys opened a black case, inside which agents found several packages of a substance which later tested positive for cocaine, with an aggregate weight of 5.8kg.

The earlier search of Rachid's cabin was carried out after a conversation he had with a border protection officer during a routine passport control check, Hyatt said.

Brick packages, weighing a total of 7.9kg, were found inside locked luggage in Rachid's room. The packages tested positive for cocaine.

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Wilkinson, Harris and Rachid were charged with possession with intent to distribute more than 5kg of cocaine.

The US Attorney's Office said Wilkinson and Rachid last appeared in Federal Court in San Francisco on January 31 for detention hearings, while Harris last appeared on February 1, also for a detention hearing. All three were remanded to custody and were due to reappear in early May.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said the ministry was aware of the arrests of Wilkinson and Harris and consular assistance had been offered.

The Aurora  has since sailed on to the South Pacific and is now headed for Sydney. A P&O spokesman at the company's Southampton headquarters said: "There is an ongoing investigation and we are not at liberty to discuss this further."

- Stuff

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