A multi-million dollar international drug operation has been upended with New Zealand, Australian, and Canadian authorities working together to uncover an elaborate scheme to import methamphetamine hidden in maple syrup.
In January, the shipment of maple syrup from Canada was intercepted and found to be concealing nearly three quarters of a tonne of methamphetamine.
It was part of a wider shipment of methamphetamine bound for the Australasian market, which saw law enforcement in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada working together and co-ordinating their respective investigations.
Under Operation Regis, New Zealand Police worked alongside New Zealand Customs Service on the interception of 713 kilograms of methamphetamine.
In February, five men aged between 22 and 45 were arrested at a rural property near Helensville when they took possession of the bulk of the consignment.
A sixth man, aged 28, was also arrested when he sought to take possession of the remainder of the consignment.
They are due to reappear in the North Shore and Auckland District Courts in due course.
Police have continued to work in partnership with New Zealand Customs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Australian Federal Police, and Victoria Police following the interception.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says the interception of methamphetamine is the largest New Zealand has seen at its border, but authorities cannot afford to relax.
“The international drug trade and organised crime groups are creating havoc and harm in communities around the globe, and our best opportunity to disrupt, intercept, and keep our communities safe, is to work collaboratively with other agencies, and other nations.
“This seizure of nearly three quarters of a tonne shows the effectiveness of working across borders.”
Commissioner Coster says this is a significant result by our National Organised Crime Group, alongside our partner agencies in New Zealand and across the globe to combat the harm methamphetamine causes to our communities.
“Had this shipment been distributed across New Zealand it would have caused immense harm to the vulnerable communities these criminal groups were preying upon.”
Police estimate this seizure would have caused close to $800 million worth of social harm, according to drug harm index figures.
“We know that drugs are a major driver of crime in New Zealand, and we see first-hand how damaging the impact of addiction in our communities is,” says Commissioner Coster.
“We are committed to disrupting and dismantling drug networks identified through a multi-agency, international partnerships approach.”
New Zealand Customs Comptroller Christine Stevenson says Customs is increasingly seeing transnational organised crime groups undertaking large-scale drug smuggling attempts like this one to try to breach our border.
“It points to the determination of these criminals to peddle their harm in our communities for their own personal wealth and at the expense of our communities, regardless of the damage to social, health and wider economic wellbeing.
“This seizure, along with other large seizures over the past 12 months, shows that New Zealand Customs and our partners remain ready and able to intercept a significant proportion of the drugs these criminal groups try to smuggle here.
“Our message to transnational organised crime is that we are aware of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and we will use the combined resources of New Zealand Customs and our partner agencies here in New Zealand and around the world to stop them and hit the profits they try to extract from our communities and our economy,” Christine Stevenson said.
In Australia, a multi-agency international investigation was launched after the Canada Border Services Agency identified a suspicious shipment that contained 18 pallets of canola oil in a shipment destined for Melbourne from Canada under Operation Parkes.
There, a staggering three tonnes of methamphetamine was discovered, which has subsequently led to a number of local arrests in Melbourne, alleged to be responsible for multiple drug import attempts bound for Melbourne since late 2022, including the shipment halted at the New Zealand border.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Hilda Sirec said the drug seizures and arrests highlighted the damage that law enforcement agencies could inflict on transnational drug trafficking networks by working together across borders.
“The AFP, together with local and international partners are committed to identifying, dismantling and prosecuting criminal syndicates that cause harm in each of our countries,” Commissioner Sirec said.
“We are using our combined reach to disrupt drug supply chains and hold criminals to account… no matter where they are in the world.”
Acting Officer in Charge of the British Columbia Royal Canadian Mounted Police Federal Serious and Organized Crime Major Projects team, Inspector Jillian Wellard, says this investigation is a perfect example of why collaboration between policing partners is crucial to combatting transnational organised crime.
“From initial detection by Canada Border Services Agency, to the sharing of critical intelligence between the RCMP, New Zealand Police, New Zealand Customs, and Australian Federal Police, keeping our communities safe from these illicit and toxic drugs increasingly takes a global effort.”
Regional Director, Pacific Region for the Canada Border Services Agency, Nina Patel, says: “Canada Border Services Agency Intelligence and Enforcement Officers from British Columbia assisted in the investigation that led to the seizure of nearly three quarters of a tonne of methamphetamine in New Zealand.
“We are proud to have worked alongside the New Zealand and Australian authorities and our partners at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to combat organised crime and protect our communities.”