Joint Fiji, Australia, New Zealand Investigation Leads To Cocaine Arrest

Elakha yacht intercepted by Australian Navy

By Tevita Vuibau

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Feb. 7, 2017) – A joint investigation involving Fijian, Australian and New Zealand authorities resulted in a high seas sting last week that netted 1.4 tonnes of cocaine worth an estimated $A312 million ($F490m) [US$240 million]. 

According to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the bust is the biggest ever intercepted by Australian authorities.

As a result of the sting, six men including a 54-year-old dual Swiss/Fijian national have been charged by the AFP.

The dual Swiss/Fijian national was captured with another man on Thursday evening aboard the sailing vessel Elakha that was carrying the cocaine with an estimated weight of 1422 kilograms.

The investigation included support from the New Zealand Customs Service (NZCS), Organised Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand (OFCANZ), the Fijian Transnational Crime Unit, French Polynesian authorities and Australian Border Force (ABF).

It stemmed from intelligence received by the AFP from the NZCS in 2014 about a conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs into Australia.

Police spokesperson Ana Naisoro confirmed Fiji had assisted in the investigation that spanned two-and-a-half years.

"Local authorities from the Fiji Police (Force) and Fiji Navy have been working closely with Australian authorities with regards to this major operation," Ms Naisoro said.

"This has been an ongoing operation and we cannot divulge too much information with regards to the operation and investigation as it could prejudice the process before the courts.

"I, however, can say that we continue to strengthen partnerships such as this with Australian authorities and other international organisations such as INTERPOL to keep these drugs from entering our borders.

"The hardwork put in by all involved in this operation which has spanned several years shows the lengths and determination we all have in keeping drugs from entering our country".

The Elakha is alleged to have travelled from New Zealand to a "mothership" in the South Pacific Ocean last month to collect the drugs.

It was intercepted by the Royal Australian Navy Patrol Boat HMAS Bathurst and black bags containing the blocks of cocaine were captured.

The other men arrested included three aged 63, 62 and 66 who police allege intended to meet the Elakha at sea before returning to shore with the drugs.

A fourth Sydney man has also been arrested by police for his alleged involvement in the conspiracy to import the cocaine.

New Zealand Customs group manager intelligence, investigations and enforcement Jamie Bamford, said the seizure was testament to the strong partnerships and co-operation between New Zealand, Australia and Pacific nations focused on combatting drug smuggling operations in the region.

Fiji Times Online.
Copyright © 2017 Fiji Times Online. All Rights Reserved

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