COOKS-BOUND COCAINE INTERCEPTED IN AUCKLAND

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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, November 29) – Customs officers at Auckland international airport have intercepted approximately 3.5 kilograms of cocaine, on its way to Rarotonga.

A 46-year-old Australian national was selected for search after customs officers became suspicious of his travel. He arrived in Auckland from Sao Paulo, South America.

The cocaine was hidden in the linings of two suitcases that had been built to ensure the concealed drugs were difficult to detect.

"This is a good example of customs officers using their skills and training to detect things that are out of the ordinary. At this time, the ultimate destination of the drugs remains unknown, but we strongly suspected that they were destined for the Australian market," Bill Perry New Zealand's customs manager investigations told Radio New Zealand International. "Although we don't know the purity of the cocaine at this stage, its potential street value based on previous evidence may be up to NZD$5.6 million [US$3.86 million]."

Cook Islands police commissioner Pira Wichman said that his office was kept up to date by New Zealand customs regarding the Australian traveller. He said after several discussions it was decided that the arrest be made in Auckland.

"We knew about the case and we were going to have a controlled delivery where we would await the man here in Raro and watch his movements or have a surveillance on him," Wichman said yesterday. "We want to find out whereabouts in Rarotonga or the Cook Islands he was going to but after some discussions it was decided that the person be arrested in New Zealand. However our officers are still continuing the investigation into this case to see if there are any local contacts. But we are still not sure if we (Rarotonga) would be used a transit point or if it was really the destination."

Wichman said they are aware of some names and his officers would be working on the information.

"This is really a concern for us so we are out identifying some people that could be involved because we really want to know if there is a local contact."

Wichman said his office has been kept in close contact with NZ customs.

The arrested person appeared in the Manukau district court yesterday and has been charged with the importation of a class A controlled drug (cocaine) and has been remanded in custody until late January 2007.

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