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Operation Vintage: ‘Significant’ South Island commercial drug operation busted

Operation Vintage news
Police in South Westland during the recovery phase of Operation Vintage. PHOTO SUPPLIED.

A significant Police operation has dealt a blow to a Central Otago-based syndicate accused of both producing commercial-scale quantities of cannabis in south Westland, and bringing methamphetamine into Cromwell.

Three people face 28 charges following the execution of warrants at properties in Cromwell, Tarras and the Haast area yesterday, Tuesday 18 April.

It is the result of more than a year of planning, say police.

One man faces 12 charges relating to methamphetamine, cannabis and firearms.

More than 70 Police officers from Christchurch, Dunedin, and the West Coast were enlisted for the operation, including members of the Armed Offenders Squad, the Specialist Search Group, and dogs trained in detecting guns, cash and drugs.

The operation’s one of the most significant in the area in recent years, says District Manager Criminal Investigations Detective Inspector Shona Low.

“We have targeted a commercial crime group that’s been causing harm by pumping drugs into Central Otago and the West Coast – solely to make money for the people behind it.

“These communities can be assured that due to this operation’s success, we have dealt a blow to organised criminal activity in the area.”

Of those charged:

  • One man faces eight charges related to the sale and supply of cannabis, and the supply of methamphetamine.
  • A second man faces eight charges related to the unlawful possession of firearms, the supply of methamphetamine, the supply of cannabis, and failing to comply.
  • A third man faces 12 charges related to the supply of methamphetamine, the sale and supply of cannabis, unlawful possession of firearms, and possession of cannabis.
  • The three are due to appear in Queenstown District Court today.

Further charges and arrests are likely.

Work on the campaign, dubbed Operation Vintage, began in March 2022, following concerns around an influx of drugs and associated harm in Cromwell.

Enquiries led Police to properties in the Cromwell, Tarras and Haast area, and to remote areas of Crown Lease land and DOC land in south Westland, where Police yesterday located two large plots and a number of smaller ones. Cannabis plants in one plot were found dotted over an 8km area.

A significant quantity of cannabis, 21 firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition were recovered by the afternoon. The cannabis recovery operation continues today.

Operation Vintage news
Some of the cannabis crop seized by police in South Westland. PHOTO SUPPLIED.

The suspects have close ties to the Central Otago area, Detective Inspector Low says.

“There has been a real effort to hide growing sites. They have been found deep in the wilderness, in areas where hunters would be unlikely to stumble across them. It takes considerable effort to get to the areas where these plants have been growing.”

Drones from the Specialist Search Group assisted Police in locating areas of interest in the isolated bush area, while officers travelled by helicopter and foot – retracing the challenging routes taken by those accused of growing the plants.

“Small communities aren’t exempt from organised crime, and this shows the lengths we are willing to go to disrupt that. This commercial operation was designed to make money for those running it, with no regard for the harm it caused to people at the other end,” Detective Inspector Low says.

“This is not a Police operation targeting small-time growers. It sought to disrupt a significant illicit campaign that contributed to harm in the small towns of Cromwell and Haast. This is not about personal use or low-level offending, this is about large-scale operations who profit from the considerable harm.

“Thousands of hours of work have gone into Operation Vintage and our enquiries are ongoing, but I’m confident these arrests will go a long way to making our communities safer. It also sends the message that organised crime is not welcome here.”

Operation Vintage news
Some of the 21 firearms and rounds seized by police. PHOTO SUPPLIED.

Nationwide, the large-scale production and sale of cannabis, along with other drugs such as methamphetamine, generates significant income for organised criminals, enabling the accumulation of significant wealth and assets.

Gangs and organised crime groups can use the profits from cannabis sales to fund the purchase and sale of more harmful drugs. They flaunt their wealth through social media, attracting young people into their lifestyle.

“Police want to remind people that we rely on the public to help stamp out this offending, by supplying information to us to help form a picture of what’s happening in our communities.

“You may feel like the information you have is not significant, however, it could be the missing piece of the puzzle Police need to put offenders before the court.”

Information can be passed to Police via 105 by phone on online, or alternatively information can be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online at www.crimestoppers-nz.org.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. This is what happens when livilhoods have been destroyed by the false ‘Covid narrative’ that this government and the associated parties have pushed for the last 4 years!
    Those who have lost their jobs, careers and livlihoods then turn to illicit and illegal (at least by the government’s own definition of law…) methods to make money, since everything for them and their futures have been ruined!!!
    This is why the Biker / ‘Outlaw’ Gangs exists, due to being disenfranchised by mainstream society to begin with…!

    ‘I did two tours of duty in Vietnam
    I came home with a brand new plan…
    I take seed from Columbia and Mexico,
    I just plant ’em down the hollar (hollow) on Copperhead Row.

    Now the D.A.’s got a chopper in the air,
    Wake up screamin’ like I’m back over there (Vietnam)
    I learned a thing or two from Charlie don’t you know,
    You better stay away from Copperhead Row…!

  2. That’s why Aunty Helen wants it decriminalised ‘ cause they’re making the money. What do you think the Bidens and the Kharzarians do? The opium wars of the19th century? It’s to exploit the masses to make money and dependancy. We don’t need the opiates we want the good stuff. To exist as equal partners. To have a chance of something.

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