Four arrested as police seize $20m worth of cocaine

6:00 pm on 1 November 2017

Police seized an estimated 46 kilograms of cocaine - worth about $20 million - from an address in Tauranga early this morning after it was smuggled in on a commercial ship.

The Maersk Antares at the Bridge Marina Pier A in Tauranga.

The Maersk Antares at the Bridge Marina Pier A in Tauranga. Photo: Andrew Campbell.

Four foreign nationals were also arrested today at the climax of a five-month investigation carried out by police and Customs staff.

After several smaller busts, the investigation discovered that a cocaine shipment would be offloaded from a commercial ship near Tauranga this week.

Police said the ship arrived from Chile late last night, and the cocaine was retrieved from a hidden compartment on the exterior of the hull.

Search warrants were then carried out in Tauranga, Mt Maunganui and Auckland early this morning and four men were arrested.

The two Australian men, one Croatian man - aged in their mid-40s - and a Serbian man aged in the mid-30s, will appear in the Tauranga District Court this afternoon, charged with importing the cocaine and possessing it for supply.

Police said a further five kilograms of cocaine and a kilogram of methamphetamine was found in an Onehunga address along with a large amount of cash.

Police said there were links to an earlier incident in which another 30kg of cocaine was smuggled into New Zealand, and the four arrested men will face additional charges relating to this.

The police are extending their investigation worldwide after dismantling the drug syndicate which tried to smuggle the drugs into Tauranga.

"These arrests have dismantled a trans-national crime syndicate attempting to profit from a drug that would have caused a great deal of harm within our communities," Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers said.

He said this was the largest single seizure of cocaine in the country and he expects more arrests to be made.

"We will get the help of other law inforcement agencies across the globe and also customs and police liason officers offshore just to look very closely at this syndicate to see what other tentacles they may have elsewhere."

Customs spokesperson Jamie Bamford said New Zealand was being targeted by international crime syndicates as a market for cocaine.

"Our intelligence suggests an increase in demand and use, and this goes hand-in-hand with the increase in seizures we're making at the border."

"Customs focuses on the maritime border, and our regional ports.