By NICK PERRY from the Associated Press
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A drug syndicate that tried to smuggle tons of methamphetamine from Canada to Australia and New Zealand by hiding it in shipments of maple syrup and canola oil has had its ruse busted, authorities said Thursday.
Authorities from the three nations say they worked together for more than five months to unravel the elaborate scheme that was worth billions of dollars.
Authorities in New Zealand and Australia say they’ve made a dozen arrests and expect more to come, while Canadian authorities said they are still investigating the case and aren’t yet providing all the details.
Australian police said they intercepted four separate hauls of meth weighing more than six tons and filed charges against six men.
They said that in January, Canadian authorities alerted them that 2,900 liters (766 gallons) of liquid meth had been hidden in 180 bottles of canola oil bound for Australia.
They said Canadian authorities swapped out the meth for a harmless substance and allowed the shipment to continue.
Australian police said that two men then moved what they believed were the drugs to storage locations around the city of Melbourne. Two more shipments came in May and June, and the syndicate was also linked to a December shipment, Australian police said.
In New Zealand, police said the syndicate tried to hide more than three-quarters of a ton of meth in a shipment of maple syrup, the largest such shipment that had been intercepted at New Zealand’s border.
New Zealand police said they have arrested and charged five men at a rural property near the town of Helensville, north of Auckland, who had taken the bulk of the shipment. A sixth person that police say took the remainder of the shipment was also facing charges.
“The international drug trade and organized crime groups are creating havoc and harm in communities around the globe,” New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said.
“Our best opportunity to disrupt, intercept, and keep our communities safe is to work collaboratively with other agencies, and other nations,” Coster said.
In Australia, Victoria state police assistant commissioner Bob Hill said importing such drugs on an industrial scale ruins lives, families and communities.
“Unfortunately, the insatiable appetite for illicit drugs in Australia makes us a lucrative market for organized crime,” Hill said in a statement.
British Columbia Royal Canadian Mounted Police Acting Commissioner Will Ng said the operation was a perfect example of what law enforcement agencies around the globe can achieve when working together.