A key organiser in drug smuggling case jailed for 14 years

A 47-year-old man who played an essential role in a failed drug smuggling attempt through Auckland Airport, when the border was shut three years ago, was today jailed for 14-years-seven-months.

In May 2020, Customs officers arrested a passenger at Auckland Airport after locating 19.4 kilograms of methamphetamine in his carry-on suitcase. It would have been worth up to an estimated $8 million on the street at the time.

Customs’ investigation – Operation Santana – resulted in four additional arrests that same week. All other defendants pleaded guilty including Romney Fukofuka who was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 7 years and 3 months in 2023.

The man sentenced today, who was a baggage handler in 2020, had pleaded not guilty to importing methamphetamine. However, evidence presented at trial in September 2023 showed he was a key organiser, texting instructions to put the drug-ladened suitcase on the baggage carousel.

The man had also arranged for his criminal colleagues, also formerly baggage handlers, to get the suitcase off the baggage carousel and deliver it to him outside the airport where he was waiting. Evidence established that some of them were promised $20,000 each for a successful drop-off.

Customs Investigations Manager, Dominic Adams, says today’s sentencing marks the completion of an intensive and complex investigation that uncovered a criminal enterprise long before those who were convicted knew that law enforcement was onto them.

“Customs understands the temptations or coercion that people working at airports and maritime ports can face with the promise of money, protection, or other enticements. Today’s result sends a clear signal– you lose everything – money, time with family, future career prospects.

“Customs has eyes and ears on the ground more than you think. Not just our own officers, we have the support of partner agencies and industry colleagues including airports and airlines.”

Following Operation Santana, a joint Customs and Police investigation – Operation Selena – saw at least 25 people, including a number of baggage handlers, charged in 2021 with millions of dollars in assets seized, including two Auckland properties, vehicles, and large sums of cash.

Anyone who has concerns about possible smuggling behaviour can contact Customs confidentially on 0800 WE PROTECT (0800 937 768) or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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