Cocaine bust: Arrests after raids by police who believe smugglers were bringing cocaine from Colombia into New Zealand

Alleged drug smugglers accused of bringing millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine from Colombia into New Zealand allegedly have direct links to the feared Medellin cartel, it’s understood.

Police say eight people have been arrested as part of a joint National Organised Crime Group (NOCG) and Customs sting dubbed Operation Mist.

Officers carried out a series of coordinated raids on addresses across Canterbury yesterday.

Eight people have been arrested, with the alleged offending spanning several years and involving addresses in Christchurch, Mid Canterbury and Auckland.

The Herald understands that police will allege links to the Medellin cartel, founded and led by Pablo Escobar.

“Two appeared in the Christchurch District Court yesterday afternoon facing serious drug charges,” a police spokeswoman said.

“We are unable to provide further details currently for operational reasons but will proactively release an update this morning.”

It’s understood that police will speak at a press conference in Christchurch later today.

Two Canterbury dairy workers appeared in Christchurch District Court yesterday facing charges of importing cocaine on various dates stretching back more than a year.

A 34-year-old man, who was granted interim name suppression, has been charged with conspiring “with persons unknown in Colombia” to import cocaine, seven charges of importing or attempting to import the drug, and four counts of money laundering, totalling more than $600,000.

He also faces charges of being a member of an organised criminal group involved with importing the class A drug.

Ruth Yanid Ramirez Alfonso, 38, from a rural address in Mid Canterbury, is alleged to have been involved in importing drugs going as far back as January 2018.

She has been charged with being in an organised criminal group involved in importing the class A drug methamphetamine, along with six charges of importing or attempting to import cocaine.

The man was remanded in custody without plea to December 1, while Alfonso was granted bail to the same date.

Six others allegedly involved in the drug-running operation have also been charged.

They are expected to appear at Christchurch District Court today.

A 29-year-old bar manager, who had been living in Christchurch, appeared from custody this morning on a money laundering charge, allegedly involving $10,000 between March 29 and September 2 this year.

He was granted bail to come back to court on December 1.

Judge John Brandts-Giesen also granted interim name suppression which will be argued fully next week.

Four foreign nationals involved in orchestrating the smuggling of $20 million worth of cocaine into Tauranga, the biggest cocaine haul destined for the New Zealand market, were jailed last year.

Croatian Mario Habulin, 48, Serbian national Deni Cavallo, 48, and Australian nationals Matthew John Scott, 46, and Benjamin John Northway, 37, were all sentenced in the Rotorua High Court, receiving sentences between 14-and-a-half years and 27-and-a-half years.

In May 2016, 35kg of cocaine arrived in New Zealand inside a diamante-encrusted horse head statue, which arrived by plane from Mexico via Hong Kong.

It was, at the time, New Zealand’s biggest ever cocaine bust.

The drugs had an estimated street value of up to $14m.

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