16 Nov 2018

Police seize record 190kg of cocaine in container of bananas

4:11 pm on 16 November 2018

Police and Customs have seized 190kg of cocaine found in a container of bananas - New Zealand's largest bust of the drug.

An Australian investigation into an organised crime group in the country identified the potential shipment of illicit drugs that left Balboa, Panama on 4 August.

Just over two weeks later, on 20 August, a shipment of bananas arrived in Auckland on a vessel from Balboa.

However, it wasn't only bananas on board. New Zealand Customs and Police inspected the container and found five duffel bags on top of the boxes of bananas, containing 190 blocks of cocaine. The seizure is said to be worth $28 million to $36 million.

The blocks were wrapped in packaging tape and each weighed around one kilogram.

A 24-hour joint investigation led to the arrest of a 41-year-old man in Sydney.

Police and Customs have seized 190kg of cocaine found in a container of bananas.

Police and Customs have seized 190kg of cocaine found in a container of bananas. Photo: RNZ

Detective Inspector Paul Newman said the operation commenced in August after New Zealand police received information from their Australian law-enforcement counterparts.

From that information a vessel from Panama was boarded by a taskforce of Customs officers and police on 10 August.

"The joint investigation concluded in the past 24 hours with an arrest of a Sydney man for trying to facilitate the importation of a portion of the consignment into Australian," he said.

"It has been vitally important that the co-operation of both countries' law enforcement work together to conclude successfully this operation... This drug in the community causes a tremendous amount of social harm.

"The operation has shown our dedication... in disrupting the organised criminals that are bringing those drugs into this country and causing this devastating effect on the community."

Police described the initial information received from Australian agencies about a containerised drug cargo as "scant", and said good police work had then pinpointed the origin of the shipment to Panama.

Mr Newman said Australia and New Zealand offered a lucrative market to central and south American drug cartels and gangs given the high prices users were prepared to pay.

He said it underlined the need for continued co-operation with offshore agencies and the trans-Tasman approach that resulted in the drugs seizure.