A record-breaking haul of cocaine has been seized by New Zealand police, hidden inside a gigantic diamante-encrusted sculpture of a horse’s head.
The inconspicuous sculpture – decorated with brown, black and gold diamante sequins and weighing 400kg – was air-freighted from Mexico in May and contained 35 bricks of cocaine, each weighing a kilogram, concealed inside the base of the horse’s neck.
The haul has an estimated street value of $9.9 million and is by far the largest seizure of the drug ever intercepted in the country.
Cocaine rarely makes it into the country in significant quantities due to strict border controls and the sizeable distance from the major foreign drug markets.
The street price of cocaine in New Zealand is high and quality often low.
“This is obviously an extremely large amount of cocaine and in the past we’ve only found very small amounts of this drug,” said Detective Senior Sergeant Colin Parmenter, officer in charge of the organised crime unit in Auckland.
“What this find tells us though is that there is obviously a demand for it. While it’s possible that this statue may have been sent on to another country … there’s every possibility that the cocaine was destined for the New Zealand market and we would be naive to think otherwise”
Police believe an organised crime group is behind New Zealand’s largest cocaine bust.
They have made three arrests and say more are likely, after the cocaine – with an estimated street value of $14 million – was found inside a diamante-encrusted ornamental horse head airfreighted from Mexico.
Two men, a 44-year-old Mexican and a 56-year-old American, were arrested at Auckland International Airport last night, trying to fly to Hawaii.
Another 29-year-old Mexican man was arrested in Christchurch this morning.
They have been charged with importing and possessing a class-A drug.
A joint investigation by police, Customs New Zealand and international law enforcement agencies led to the discovery of the drugs inside the 800 lbs diamante-encrusted sculpture in May.
Inside a cavity at the base of the head, they found 77 lbs of cocaine divided into 35 bricks.
Detective Superintendent Virginia Le Bas said the importation was part of a complex operation and a significant organised crime group was responsible.
Police did not yet know how long the men had been in the country, she said.
New Zealand Customs group manger Jamie Bamford said it did not tend to seize large amounts of cocaine, and last year discovered 3.3 lb in small consignments.
Prior to this seizure, police said the average amount of cocaine they found each year was
Search warrants were being carried out at an address in Te Atatu in west Auckland this morning, and two houses in Christchurch are also being searched.
Two men and a woman were speaking with police.
Ms Le Bas said, based on police surveys, cocaine was not a common drug in New Zealand, but there was a market which was recognized as being associated with high society people, or, as she described it, “socialites”.