14 Aug 2016

NZ has 'big appetite' for illegal drugs

3:58 pm on 14 August 2016

Drug addicts paying top dollar means New Zealand's illegal drug market is being targeted by international crime networks, the Customs Minister says.

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Last month Customs officers seized 4000 handbags hiding 30kg of methamphetamine inside silica gel sachets. Photo: supplied

However, the minister, Nicky Wagner, said Customs was keeping up with drug seizures and was on track for a record number this year.

Customs made over 16 seizures at the border of Class A, B and C drugs in the year to June, including nearly 143kg of methamphetamine and more than 575kg of its precursor, ephedrine.

Ms Wagner said New Zealand was an attractive market for criminals overseas.

"New Zealand has a big appetite for drugs and we're prepared to pay for them. We pay a lot more in New Zealand, and Australia actually, than other parts of the world so international criminal networks are focusing on New Zealand."

The 400kg sculpture of a diamante-encrusted horse head had been freighted into New Zealand from Mexico.

A horse head sculpture freighted into New Zealand from Mexico last month contained 35kg of cocaine. Photo: SUPPLIED

She said people tried to hide drugs in shipments of legal goods and Customs had to remain one step ahead.

"I think we're doing better. I also think we need to face the fact that we're being targeted by the world simply because our drug addicts are prepared to pay more money for their drugs than other countries.

This year there had been record drug seizures, including 35kg of cocaine hidden inside a diamante-encrusted sculpture and $20 million worth of methamphetamine in a shipment of spatulas.

Ms Wagner said in the past most of the drugs intercepted were the precursor ephedrine, but recently more methamphetamine had been seized.

She said in 2013 only about 20kg of methamphetamine was intercepted but the amount seized had been increasing ever since.

"I think that's probably because the police have been very successful in shutting down (clandestine) labs and so they're bringing it in in made-up form."

However Ms Wagner said with Customs intercepting drugs on a daily basis the systems protecting the border were working well.

"What we have found is that everytime we add another layer of expertise or sophistication in our targetting, we get better outcomes. We're working around the world, we're working very closely with intelligence agencies internationally, sharing information, targeting information."

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