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New Zealand Had Its Biggest Year on Record for Drug Smugglers

A global glut and high prices are driving drug smuggling, with $1.2 billion of meth seized at the border in 2016.

by VICE Staff
02 March 2017, 11:29pm

New Zealand's border officials have seized a record-breaking $1.2 billion of meth and its precursors entering the country last year.

The 2016 haul—the biggest ever for NZ Customs—included 217,642 tabs and pills. The take of 1.2 tonnes meth and its precursor ingredients would have produced more than 800kg of final-product drug, with a street value of $1.2 billion.

After meth, MDMA, cannabis, controlled and prescription medicines, LSD and psychoactive substances were most common on the seizure list.

Investigations Manager Maurice O'Brien said a glut in the global market and relatively high prices in New Zealand made it an attractive target for smugglers.

"We're no different from the rest of the world; drug smuggling is a global issue and there's a glut in the global market. New Zealand's meth and MDMA prices are much higher compared to many overseas countries, which makes drug smuggling a lucrative business for transnational syndicates.

A 20-year-old Hong Kong man was arrested in October last year for importing a 176kg shipment of methamphetamine packaged as Chinese tea. Image Customs New Zealand.

Northern Ports Manager Bruce Berry said as well as pseudoephedrine—the medication used to manufacture meth—there were larger quantities of the finished drug coming in:

"We are seeing more finished meth in larger quantities and, in the last couple of years, ephedrine has replaced pseudoephedrine as the precursor of choice. Customs is also seeing a rise in the number of seizures and volumes of MDMA or ecstasy."

"Officers use tools, knowledge, experience, and their gut instincts to make seizures daily. Drugs concealments are getting more elaborate and sophisticated, but we're also always updating our targeting and examination methods to keep up with illicit trends," Mr Berry says.

Highlights over the last year included 35kg cocaine found inside a horse sculpture, 176kg of meth in shipping containers concealed as Chinese tea, and 20kg in not-so-secret compartments in the bottom of two suitcases—the country's largest ever meth seizure at an airport.

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