6 Oct 2021

Rugby league star Manu Vatuvei pleads guilty in meth importation case

9:24 pm on 6 October 2021

Former rugby league star Manu Vatuvei has pleaded guilty to importing methamphetamine.

Manu Vatuvei arrives at Manukau District Court.

Manu Vatuvei arriving at Manukau District Court this morning. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

The 35-year-old appeared in the Manukau District Court this morning.

He was due to stand trial this week on charges of importing methamphetamine and possessing methamphetamine for supply.

But he has now entered a guilty plea through his lawyer Vivienne Feyen to a representative importation charge.

Feyen told the court Vatuvei accepted responsibility for his offending.

Vatuvei has been remanded on bail ahead of his sentencing in December.

The Crown has indicated it will withdraw the remaining charges at sentencing.

Vatuvei was arrested in November 2019.

Manu Vatuvei pictured in March 2021.

Vatuvei during an earlier appearance in the High Court Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

He fought to keep his name secret, but name suppression was declined by both the District Court and High Court.

Days before suppression was due to lapse, Vatuvei outed himself on Instagram.

At the time, he told his followers he wanted them to hear directly from him that he was accused of possessing and importing the drug in 2019.

"I'll be fighting my innocence for these charges," he said.

"I know there'll be a lot of questions that will be wanting answers but I've been advised by my legal team that's all I can talk about. So hopefully you can all respect that, and also can you please respect the privacy of my family while I go through this battle."

Manu Vatuvei outside court in March 2021.

Vatuvei outside court in March 2021 Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Between 2004 and 2017, Vatuvei played 14 seasons for the Warriors and scored 152 tries over 226 games.

He was nicknamed "the Beast" and became the first player in NRL history to complete the feat of scoring 10 tries or more in 10 consecutive seasons in 2015.

In 2019 he had success in Dancing with the Stars, winning the series with dance partner Loryn Reynolds.

Operation Clydesdale

Court documents show police began investigating Vatuvei in October 2019.

He was charged in November that year, alongside three other men - one of them his brother Lopini Mafi, who has also pleaded guilty.

Mafi was in charge of importing of the drugs, through a contact in Africa code named 'Big Boss'.

Vatuvei helped with the logistics, checking when packages were arriving and asking others to make calls to courier companies.

All up, between July 2019 and November 2019, the defendants were caught importing just over two kilograms of meth across four different packages.

Vatuvei had a hand in two of the imports - one package that wasn't intercepted by authorities and another that contained 487.5 grams of the drug, hidden in skipping rope handles.

Data from Mafi's phone showed he sent photos and video of some of the packages once they'd arrived back to 'Big Boss'.

In one of the videos, Mafi and Vatuvei can be seen sorting through the package, removing the packets of meth.

In relation to one of the package's Vatuvei was charged over, text messages show him and another one of the defendants confirming the arrival of the drugs.

"Lessgooooo once I'm done here I'll come down and then we can open it up sweet," Vatuvei said.

"Nothing moves without you," the other defendant replied.

Vatuvei then texted another person, sayng: "we on. Call you soon".

Customs officers intercepted the second package and replaced most of the methamphetamine with a placebo.

A chemical marking powder was placed on the package, which would be transferred on to the clothing or skin of the person opening it.

The package was delivered by an undercover Customs officer, posing as a courier driver.

It was opened by Mafi and Vatuvei and minutes later, police arrived to search the house.

Both men were arrested and various items were found in the house. The chemical marking powder was also detected on their clothes and skin.