Contraband - NZ Customs

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Hidden drugs hit the wrong note with Customs

Hidden drugs hit the
wrong note with Customs

The war on P continues and Customs remains vigilant at the border regularly intercepting methamphetamine and its precursors hidden in all sorts of novel ways.

Criminals come up with creative ways to attempt to conceal these harmful drugs and in recent months Customs officers at the International Mail Centre and the Air Cargo Inspections Facility have intercepted drugs hidden in a variety of items including statues and figurines, electronic appliances, pillows, and even disguised as confectionery. 

A 26-year-old Auckland resident was jailed this month for importing nearly two kilograms of Contac NT hidden inside picture frames, enough to yield just over half a kilogram of methamphetamine or 'P' with a street value of around half a million dollars.

In March, two students were jailed for 3 years and 4 months for their involvement in the importation of 4.5 kilograms of Contac NT that had been compressed into the panels of two miniature grand pianos. Each piano had enough Contac NT to yield up to 1.2 kg of ‘P’, with a street value of up to $1.44 million.

This may seem like an interesting way of hiding drugs but it’s something we have seen before and our officers know what to look for, says Chris Howley, Group Manager Intelligence, Investigations and Enforcement.

"We’ve seen similar methods used to conceal other drugs including a recent interception of 2.5 kilograms of ephedrine compressed into the panels of a writing case.

"Criminals go to great lengths to conceal these drugs but Customs is focused on disrupting the precursor supply chain at the border,” says Chris.

Customs uses a variety of tools and capabilities at the border such as X-rays and detector dogs, with the aim of disrupting the illicit supply chain. The screening process is a rigorous one, which allows legitimate mail and goods to pass through efficiently, while identifying those that are high risk. 

These seizures highlight the level of sophistication that criminals will go to get drugs into the country and reap the profits, however it also signals to anyone attempting to import drugs – you will be caught and prosecuted.

Smaller quantities of MDMA and other drugs are also being intercepted by Customs officers at the International Mail Centre with regularity. The drugs are often hidden in smaller mail items such as DVD cases, inside headphones, and in letters or cards.

With the expansion of online trading and the global marketplace, we are increasingly finding that packages containing small amounts of illicit drugs are linked to illegal overseas-based trading websites, such as Silk Road which was closed by US authorities last year.

Illicit trading websites are known to us and we regularly monitor these sites. Customs has processes and expertise in place to detect these packages and link them to the people involved.

On a wider scale, Customs works closely with other local and international enforcement agencies to protect the community by restricting supplies of illegal drugs. We also regularly review targeting and deployment strategies, adopting new tools and techniques to put pressure on illicit imports and crack down on drug syndicates.

“Importers and drug syndicates exist within our own communities and people are being exploited, either knowingly or unknowingly, to import drugs. This is a serious matter and people need to understand that this is happening.”

Organised syndicates often recruit young people to import, carry or receive drugs, known as ‘catchers’. They are being enticed by money or intimidated to supply addresses and they don’t usually think about the consequences of getting caught.

“A drug conviction can follow you for the rest of your life, and stop you getting jobs and travelling to some countries," says Chris.

"If you are asked to carry a package from overseas or receive a package at your address on someone’s behalf, don’t do it unless you know the person and have knowledge of the content."

Importing illicit drugs into New Zealand carries severe penalties, for example, importing methamphetamine — a class A drug — carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The maximum sentence that can be imposed by the Courts for importation of a class B controlled drug is 14 years.

You can report any suspicions by calling 0800 4 CUSTOMS.