AUCKLAND CHINESE CONNECTION SUSPECTED IN FIJI DRUGS HAUL

SUVA, Fiji Islands (November 12, 2000 - Fiji Sunday Times/New Zealand Herald/PINA Nius Online)---A group of Chinese businessman who paid cash for expensive homes in Auckland are under investigation for suspected links to one of the world's biggest heroin smuggling operations discovered in a recent raid in Suva.

The New Zealand Herald has learned that the men, suspected of using drug money to buy mansions in upmarket Remuera, were tailed by an undercover agent who spoke fluent Cantonese. At Auckland International Airport he heard them discussing details of their worldwide operation.

The men are suspected of being involved in a plot to smuggle a huge shipment of heroin through the South Pacific.

Authorities from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Fiji pounced last month after a surveillance operation lasting several months. It recovered 357 kilograms of high-quality heroin from a Suva home, the Fiji Sunday Times reported.

One of the men arrested during the swoop was Suva restaurant owner Tak Sang Hao, also known as Bill Hao.

The New Zealand Herald understands that Hao, owner of Suva's Ming Palace Restaurant, owns property in Auckland and has run at least one company in the city.

Hao, a Fiji resident of Chinese descent, is being held in Suva prison along with an alleged co-conspirator, Wong Ham Hong, from Hong Kong.

They face life imprisonment if found guilty of importing the drug.

It is believed the heroin was intended for Sydney during the Olympic Games but got held up in Fiji when martial law was declared after the May 19 coup, the Fiji Sunday Times reported.

A source close to the Auckland police operations told the New Zealand Herald that alarm bells began ringing when a group of Chinese businessmen paid $1.4 million in cash for a home in Remuera, one of Auckland's most expensive suburbs.

An Australian undercover drugs officer who speaks fluent Cantonese began tailing the men, the source said, and achieved a major breakthrough at Auckland airport.

Sitting near the men in the departure lounge, the officer heard them talking about the heroin operation.

The head of the Auckland drug squad, Detective Senior Sergeant Colin McMurtrie, who was in Suva for last month's swoop, said New Zealand police became aware several months ago of a small group of men who had links to Hao through a number of companies.

He said the names of companies linked to heroin seizures around the world also began cropping up.

He said although the operation was based in Fiji it appeared the drugs were headed for New Zealand then Australia.

"If they drip feed say, a kilo at a time that would keep the market going in New Zealand for the next 10 to 15 years," he said.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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