Auckland Airport Baggage Handlers Arrested In A Major Drug Bust

A joint operation by New Zealand Police and New Zealand Customs has foiled a methamphetamine smuggling racket at Auckland International Airport. After arresting 14 people, including six airport baggage handlers, police said the smugglers had or have conspired to smuggle close to 500kgs of methamphetamine into New Zealand this year.

Six baggage handlers working at Auckland Airport were arrested on drug importation charges on Wednesday. Photo: Getty Images

“Attempts at smuggling by those with access to the baggage handling system isn’t new,” said New Zealand Customs Intelligence Manager, Bruce Berry. “Customs knows that organized criminal groups actively target and look for weaknesses in the legitimate trade supply chain.”

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Baggage handlers help in a 500-kilogram methamphetamine smuggling racket

The arrests may have surprised the crooks, but a joint investigation had been underway for some time after the baggage handlers were detected behaving suspiciously. An attempt to smuggle 200 kilograms of methamphetamine from Malaysia to New Zealand went awry in October after Malaysian agencies stopped the shipment and arrested four people there.

“The investigation uncovered that Air New Zealand baggage handlers at Auckland Airport were allegedly preparing to receive the shipment from Kuala Lumpur before it was intercepted by Malaysian authorities,” said a statement from New Zealand Police.

But police say the smugglers have successfully imported some 250 kilograms of methamphetamine through Auckland Airport this year. It wasn’t only Malaysia the meth was coming in from. Five of the people arrested face charges relating to a specific importation from Los Angeles on July 12.

New Zealand Police seized cash, guns, and drugs in searches on Wednesday. Photo: New Zealand Police

Six baggage handlers were arrested on Wednesday

New Zealand Police executed search warrants at 20 addresses across Auckland on Wednesday morning. The 14 defendants fronted Auckland District Court later that day on a variety of charges ranging from importation to money laundering.

The search warrants uncovered half a million dollars in cash, pistols, and some bags of meth. The more serious importation charges carry penalties up to life imprisonment. A New Zealand crime gang is alleged to have recruited the baggage handlers.

New Zealand authorities say the baggage handlers were working legitimate jobs who probably took the risk purely for the money. But they add the baggage handlers risked and lost everything.

“The amount of methamphetamine this group of offenders have smuggled or were conspiring to bring into New Zealand through their brazen actions at the airport was enormous,” said Detective Inspector Paul Newman, from the National Organised Crime Unit.

“This investigation has again shown us that organized crime is resilient, resourceful, and looking for ways to corrupt systems and people at the border.”

New Zealand Police say the arrested baggage handlers work for Air New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images

A run of wayward baggage handlers at Auckland Airport

New Zealand Police have foiled a few wayward baggage handlers at Auckland Airport recently. 0n October 2020, more Air New Zealand baggage handlers faced charges after allegedly helping an inbound passenger try to get 20 kilograms of methamphetamine past border security.

In August this year, five baggage handlers were arrested relating to methamphetamine importation in 2020.

New Zealand authorities stepped up their surveillance of the Auckland Airport baggage handlers after the October arrests in Malaysia. Decreased passenger and aircraft traffic through Auckland Airport gives law enforcement agencies more opportunities to prevent smuggling and focus on unusual behavior patterns.

“Customs takes a serious view on deliberate subversion of systems and the breach of trust that brings,” added Mr Berry