Police find drugs in container full of bananas

New Zealand’s largest cocaine seizure – approximately 190 kilograms of cocaine – was secreted in a shipping container of bananas and was intercepted in New Zealand en route to Australia.

A 41-year-old man was arrested in the Sydney CBD on Thursday (15 November) in connection with the shipment.

The arrest comes after a joint international operations involving the Australian Federal Police (AFP), New Zealand Police and New Zealand Customs.

An investigation into an Australia-based organised crime group identified a potential shipment of illicit drugs that left Balboa, Panama, on 4 August. On Monday, 20 August, a container listed as a shipment of bananas arrived in Auckland on a vessel from Balboa.

New Zealand Customs and police inspected the container and found five duffel bags on top of the banana boxes, which contained 190 blocks of cocaine – each wrapped in packing tape and weighing about a kilogram.

The cocaine was replaced with an “inert substance”, according to the AFP, and agencies began a “controlled delivery” after it was ascertained that the drugs were bound for Australia.

On Wednesday 14 November, AFP officers conducted raids in the Sydney suburbs of Alford’s Point and Wiley Park. The 41-year-old man was arrested the following day and was charged with “attempting to possess a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, namely cocaine, which has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

AFP acting Commander Kirsty Schofield, state manager NSW, said the success of this investigation was another example of the AFP using its partnerships to combat international drug syndicates attempting to bring harmful substances into our communities.

“We will continue to work closely with our domestic and international law enforcement partners to combat transnational crime and bring charges against those in this evil trade,” she said.

“This investigation demonstrates the power of intelligence sharing and inter-agency co-operation in striking at the heart of globally-connected criminal syndicates impacting Australia.”

Detective Inspector Paul Newman of the New Zealand National Organised Crime Group said the seizure was extremely significant for both countries.

“This operation has once again shown our dedication to disrupting organised crime and reducing the devastating harm that drugs cause in our community,” he said.

Detective Inspector Newman said both countries are recognised as lucrative markets for the illicit drug trade, which is why we work closely together and share intelligence.

“The co-operation of both law enforcement and intelligence groups during this investigation has been central to its success in targeting transnational crime.”

New Zealand Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry said the seizure and arrests highlighted the strong partnership between Australian and New Zealand law enforcement agencies, and their shared focus on disrupting drug smuggling and protecting each other’s borders.

“This joint trans-Tasman approach is an important part of Customs’ strategy to keep harm offshore, and shows how New Zealand is playing its part internationally through the use of our intelligence and targeting to successfully identify risk,” he said.