10kgs of cocaine, believed to be linked to Colombian syndicate, seized – Stuff.co.nz

Posted: January 14, 2022 at 8:44 pm

More than 10 kilograms of cocaine, believed to be linked to a syndicate allegedly importing millions of the drug from Colombia to rural Canterbury, has been seized.

Police arrested nine people, including five farmworkers, in November as part of Operation Mist, a 10-month investigation that saw officials seize 50 kilograms of cocaine in New Zealand and overseas. It is believed to be one of the countrys largest cocaine busts.

As part of the operation, Spanish police found 24kg of cocaine bound for New Zealand concealed in a container in a truck in Barcelona.

Detective Inspector Darryl Sweeney, the National Organised Crime Groups South Island investigations manager, told Stuff more than 10kgs of cocaine arrived in New Zealand before Christmas, and after the arrests.

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The cocaine, detected and seized by Customs, was in similar concealment methods allegedly used by the syndicate.

NEW ZEALAND POLICE/Supplied

Twenty-four kilograms of cocaine was allegedly found concealed in a truck in Spain destined for New Zealand.

We believe it was dispatched just prior to termination [of Operation Mist], Sweeney said.

This week we have been making inquiries with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Colombia to further our investigations in this case. Charges will follow.

Seven of the nine people arrested as part of Operation Mist have denied the charges and elected trial by jury.

All those charged are expected to appear at a Crown case review hearing on February 24, but the two who have not entered pleas will be expected to do so at Christchurch District Court appearances in January.

Do you know more? Email sam.sherwood@stuff.co.nz

Two of the defendants have been granted continued interim name suppression, but hearings on that issue will be held on February 24 or a date will then be set when the Crown and defence can present their arguments.

NEW ZEALAND POLICE/Supplied

Police have seized 50kg of cocaine in what is thought to be one of New Zealands biggest drugs busts.

The National Organised Crime Group (NOCG) and Customs operation has laid more than 60 charges against the nine arrested so far. Further arrests are expected. Of the nine arrested, seven were Colombian nationals and one was Argentinian.

The charges against the nine allege the group laundered more than $600,000, mainly in the United States. Police also seized about $300,000 in cash, a quantity of cocaine, and cryptocurrency wallets in the New Zealand raids.

Organised Crime Group director Detective Superintendent Greg Williams and New Zealand Customs intelligence service manager Bruce Berry earlier said police believed the group were operating in New Zealand for about two years.

NEW ZEALAND POLICE/Supplied

Thousands of dollars in cash was seized as part of the operation.

Williams said transnational organised crime groups were specifically targeting New Zealand, because we pay some of the highest wholesale and retail prices for drugs in the world, generating huge profits for them.

To maximise these profits, these groups are inserting their own people into New Zealand who set up importing pathways, distribute to local gangs, and move the money out of New Zealand as quickly as they can.

Since 2017, NOCG, police, Customs and overseas police agencies had dismantled 23 Transnational Organised Crime Group Cells (TNOC cells).

The joint investigation involved nearly 70 New Zealand police and Customs staff from several workgroups. The DEA, Colombian police, Spanish Customs service, and Cook Island Customs service were also involved.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

Detective Superintendent Greg Williams and New Zealand Customs intelligence service manager Bruce Berry said police believed the group were operating in New Zealand for about two years.

Four of those charged have been remanded in custody, and five are on bail.

The full list of those charged after the police busts is:

Ruth Yanid Ramirez Alfonso, aged 38, a dairy worker, ischarged with participating in an organised criminal group involved in importing the class A drug methamphetamine and six charges of importing or attempting to import cocaine. The charges against her allege offending over four years from January 1, 2018. Remanded on bail after pleading not guilty and electing trial by jury.

Rene Bell, a 44-year-old Christchurch man, whose occupation is listed as licensee, faces one charge of allegedly money laundering $200,500 jointly with others on September 16, 2021. He is awaiting disclosure of the Crowns documents, and has delayed entering a plea. He was remanded on continued bail to January 18 for the plea to be entered.

Patrick Chand appeared by video link from Auckland to enter not guilty pleas and elect jury trial. He denies one charge of possession of cocaine for supply. He was remanded on bail to the Crown case review hearing.

Anderson Pelaez Garcia, a 28-year-old man from Southbridge, faces 10 charges. The charges include participating in an organised criminal group, five charges of importing cocaine and four charges of attempting to import cocaine. He denied all charges and elected trial by jury. He was remanded in custody to the case review.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

Drugs were hidden inside various items, and the operation uncovered large quantities of cash.

Esteban Blanco Gaviria, 34-year-old dairy worker from Pendarves, is charged with being a member of an organised criminal group involved with importing the class A drug. He is charged with conspiring with persons unknown in Colombia to import cocaine, seven charges of importing or attempting to import the drug, and four counts of money laundering. The alleged offending happened over much of this year, and the organised criminal group charge alleges involvement over four years. The money laundering offences, totalling $605,000, are said to have happened in Christchurch, Rolleston, and Auckland. He pleaded not guilty and elected jury trial, and was remanded in custody.

Felipe Montoya-Ospina, a 34-year-old man from Hororata, faces eight charges. The charges include allegedly participating in an organised criminal group, four charges of attempting to import cocaine, one charge of importing cocaine and two charges of supplying cocaine. He pleaded not guilty to all charges and elected trial by jury at this first appearance. He remains in custody.

Maria Otero, a 30-year-old Rakaia woman, is charged with participating in an organised criminal group and one charge of attempting to import cocaine. She has denied both charges and is remanded on bail to the case review hearing.

A 24-year-old man from Hororata, who has continued interim suppression, faces 22 charges. The charges include participating in an organised criminal group between January 1, 2018, and November 10, 2021. He also faces seven charges of allegedly importing cocaine into New Zealand, seven charges of attempting to import cocaine, three charges of supplying cocaine and four money laundering charges totalling more than $600,000. Some offences were allegedly jointly committed with others. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and elected jury trial. He was remanded in custody.

A 29-year-old bar manager from Christchurch faces one charge of money laundering $10,000. He was remanded on bail to the case review hearing on February 24 with continued name suppression. A suppression hearing is then likely to be scheduled. He has been remanded to January 18 to enter his pleas.

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10kgs of cocaine, believed to be linked to Colombian syndicate, seized - Stuff.co.nz

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