The largest ever stash of cocaine seized by New Zealand authorities has been found inside a diamanté-encrusted horse head.
Customs and police officers found 35 bricks of high-grade cocaine, with an estimated street value of $14 million NZ dollars (£7.6 million), inside the 400kg sculpture that had arrived into the country from Mexico.
The discovery was made in early May.
“This is obviously an extremely large amount of cocaine, and in the past we’ve only found very small amounts of this drug,” said detective senior sergeant Colin Parmenter, officer in charge, Organised Crime Auckland.
“Prior to this, the average amount of cocaine seized by police each year was around 250 grams.
“What this find tells us though is that there is obviously a demand for it.
“While it is possible that this statue may have been sent on to another country, there is every possibility that the cocaine was destined for the New Zealand market and we would be naïve to think otherwise.”
Importing the class A drug is punishable by life imprisonment in New Zealand.
A joint investigation by the police organised crime team and customs resulted in the arrest of three men.
A 44-year-old Mexican and a 56-year-old US national were both arrested at Auckland International Airport as they tried to catch a flight to Hawaii.
They were charged with importing and possession for supply of a class A drug (cocaine) on 30 June.
On 2 July, a third person — a 29-year-old Mexican — was arrested and charged with the same two offences.
Police also want to speak to a man in connection with the cocaine seizure, who was seen on CCTV leaving a central Auckland hotel on Friday (1 July).
- Cocaine worth £3m found in horsebox
- Rio drug-testing laboratory’s accreditation suspended weeks before Olympics
- Appeal for help in tracing sanctuary’s stolen horse
“This man may not be able to assist us whatsoever, but until such time as we have spoken to him, we will keep looking for him,” said detective senior sergeant Parmenter.
“If it is you, if you saw this man or know anything about him, please get in touch.
“We’re investigating the largest-ever seizure of cocaine into this country and this is one line of enquiry that needs to be extinguished sooner rather than later.”