Customs and Police have welcomed the sentencing of two men in the Auckland High Court today, for their involvement in New Zealand’s largest border seizure of methamphetamine.
Canadian national The Hoang Thai, 25, was sentenced to 20 years’ and six months imprisonment and New Zealand national Isaiah Te Hira, 32, was sentenced to 16 years’ nine months after being convicted for the importation and possession for supply of methamphetamine.
Operation Manta began in mid-2019 as a Customs-led investigation into an overseas criminal syndicate that was looking to expand its network into New Zealand. This investigation identified that a number of people – so called ‘shore parties’ – who had travelled to New Zealand for the purpose of receiving and distributing drug shipments, and had set up a pseudo company to facilitate this.
As a result, Customs frontline officers located 469 kilograms of methamphetamine hidden in a shipment of electrical motors sent from Thailand, and a joint investigation with Police linked the individuals that were involved, culminating in their arrests in September 2019.
Canadian national Harpeet Lidder, 26, who was convicted and sentenced to 9 years and 3 months’ imprisonment in July 2020 was also arrested at the time with a further 15 kilograms of methamphetamine and two kilograms of MDMA found at his house upon arrest.
A further New Zealand national, who was the fourth man arrested, was found not guilty following a trial in the Auckland High Court in February this year.
Customs Investigations Manager Bruce Berry says this investigation shows that organised crime syndicates are resilient, agile and adaptable – and as today’s sentencing demonstrates, so are New Zealand’s law enforcement networks.
“This was a sophisticated and organised attempt to bring a large quantity of methamphetamine into the domestic drug market, and the scale of the seizure reflects the attractiveness of New Zealand to these transnational organised crime groups.”
“International syndicates are always looking for opportunities to expand their market share globally – at the expense of our communities – but domestic and international law enforcement agencies are equally joined up to help combat these types of illegal activities.”
During this operation, New Zealand authorities also received considerable assistance from authorities in Thailand and Australia in working back into the illicit supply chain, which provided valuable assistance in further understanding the syndicate’s international operations.
“Customs and Police, along with our international partners, will continue to work closely together to penetrate and disrupt such illicit supply chains in New Zealand and off shore.”
Detective Inspector National Organised Crime Group, Paul Newman, said it is a relief such a large quantity of methamphetamine didn’t make it to the streets.
“This was a complex investigation into a well-resourced and cunning transnational criminal group.”
“The seizure was off the back of some excellent work by Customs at the border. The subsequent investigation demonstrates the strength of partnership Police has with Customs in identifying and holding criminals to account.”
“Methamphetamine is a destructive substance that devastates and erodes our communities. Preventing harm by working closely with our Customs partner makes us more effective in dismantling these criminal syndicates. This in turn makes New Zealand a safer place for our whānau. Our message to similar minded crooks is simple, expect a visit from us in the near future.”
Police and Customs recognise that the severity of the sentences handed down by the courts reflect the magnitude of this offending.
If you have suspicions or information about potential drug smuggling, contact local Police on the non-emergency 105 number, call Customs on 0800 WE PROTECT, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously.