HONOLULU, Hawaii (April 26, 2002 - Sydney Morning Herald/AP)---Forty people have been arrested in the break-up of a major drug distribution ring that operated in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji, US authorities said today.

Most of those arrested are Hawai‘i residents and many are Tongan nationals, according to Daniel Dzwilewski, head of the Honolulu FBI office.

The arrests were made yesterday on warrants after a federal grand jury returned indictments, he said. Some were scheduled for initial court appearances later today.

A total of US$ 350,000 in cash, 1.35 kilograms of cocaine and 0.45 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine were seized during the arrests, Dzwilewski said.

Another US$ 250,000 in cash and 3.15 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine were seized earlier in the 16-month investigation by various federal agencies and Maui and Honolulu police, he said.

The drugs have a street value of millions of dollars, the FBI said.

The FBI also displayed three handguns and an automatic rifle and said those were only a small sample of the weapons seized during the arrests.

Some of the drugs were brought into Hawai‘i from California concealed in children's toys and basketballs, Dzwilewski said.

"We substantially disrupted, if not eliminated, a sophisticated drug trafficking organization," he said.

Maui Police Chief Thomas Phillips said drugs are Maui's top crime problem, and the ring was responsible for half of the crystal methamphetamine sold on Maui.

"This is a huge step toward eliminating some of the drug problems on Maui," he said.

Phillips also said a Maui police officer was among those arrested but was not a "major player."

The officer was an eight-year veteran of the force and was a patrol officer who was not involved in drug investigations, Phillips said.

Many of the primary distributors arrested had ties to Richard "Tiki" Taumoepeau, who was arrested in 1999 for helping to import cocaine into Hawai‘i and is serving a 40-year prison sentence, Dzwilewski said.

Taumoepeau was one of four men convicted of running an international trafficking ring that brought cocaine from the mainland United States to Hawai‘i and other parts of the Pacific Rim, including Australia and New Zealand.

The Tongans involved in the drug ring are known for violent criminal activity on Maui and Oahu, he said.

He praised members of the Tongan community who helped in the investigation.

"It took courage on the part of concerned parents and other individuals who helped," he said.

For additional reports from The Sydney Morning Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.

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