Newlyweds recruited to smuggle in drugs
Young Taiwanese honeymooners are being used to carry drug parcels into New Zealand, says a local tour operator.
The Customs Service said yesterday that Taiwan was the new hot-spot for P imports, surpassing China in terms of being the source of methamphetamine seized over the past 12 months.
Japan and South Africa are equal third.
Since New Zealand and Taiwan entered a visa-free arrangement last December, there had been seven methamphetamine intercepts from Taiwan, a Customs spokeswoman said.
Last week, Customs officers found more than 8kg of pure methamphetamine worth around $6 million in the luggage of a small Taiwanese tour group arriving at Auckland Airport.
An earlier intercept in March netted more than 1.5kg of the drug.
The Chinese tour operator, who did not want to be named, said young Taiwanese couples were being offered free travel and accommodation to carry drug parcels into New Zealand.
He said he had conducted tours for at least four groups from Taiwan, most of them young couples on honeymoon, who had their trips paid for in cash by an unknown third party.
"I get a booking and someone will come to hand me an envelope containing the cash," said the operator, speaking in Mandarin.
"When I ask them about it, they tell me they don't know anything because they have been offered free trips to New Zealand in exchange for being couriers of important parcels."
For operational security reasons, Customs said it could not say if this was the modus operandi of Taiwanese drug syndicates.
The tour operator said the tours he ran for the groups were often between two and four days, which he found unusual, especially for honeymoon travel.
"Why would someone spend more time in the air than the actual time they spend together on their honeymoon? It's unusual, but I am a tour operator and it is not my job to be asking the questions.
"I think Customs would find a lot more drugs if they searched every tourist booked on ridiculously short New Zealand tours."
The operator said all four groups had stayed at SkyCity hotel, where the Taiwanese tourists arrested last week had also booked to stay.
The five men and two women, all in their 20s, have been charged with importing a class-A controlled drug.
For two of the men, this was allegedly not the first time they had carried parcels into New Zealand, and they were charged with two further counts of drug importation in relation to earlier events in March.
Besides having their trips paid for, some members of the group also told police that they were promised large sums of money when they got back to Taiwan.
The Herald understands that all of them will be applying for legal aid.
They have been remanded in custody to reappear in the Manukau District Court on June 9.
By Lincon Tan
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