SYDNEY – Authorities of New Zealand seized a shipment of about 190 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a shipment of bananas from Panama which was bound for Australia, Australian police announced on Friday.
In this joint operation of New Zealand police and customs and Australian police, a 41-year-old man, who has not yet been identified, was arrested on Thursday in Sydney for his alleged links to the drug shipment, Australian Federal Police (AFP) said in a statement.
A total of 190 blocks of cocaine hidden inside five duffel bags had been placed in a container, listed as shipment of bananas, on a ship that left Balboa, Panama, on Aug. 4 and arrived in Auckland 16 days later.
After detecting the drug, the authorities decided to replace it with an inert substance and thus monitor the route of its distribution, until they discovered that it was bound for Australia, where the suspect was arrested.
According to the AFP, the person under arrest tried to obtain around 57 kg of the drug and is now facing a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for drug trafficking.
“The operation has shown our dedication, both police and Customs, into disrupting organized criminals who are bringing these drugs into our country and causing this devastating effect on our community,” New Zealand detective inspector Paul Newman said on his country’s television.
The Australian authorities are constantly carrying out international operations against drug trafficking in the Pacific region, and the most important one in recent months was the seizure of 500 kg of cocaine in the Solomon Islands in September.
Australians are among the largest per capita consumers of illegal drugs in the world and a kilogram of cocaine there can cost up to a hundred times more than its price in South America.
Some 80 percent of cocaine shipments entering Australia are produced in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia and then shipped concealed among goods shipped from ports in Colombia, Mexico and Panama, according to official data.