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Cook Islands easy prey for drug lords
11:32 pm GMT+12, 12/05/2019, Cook Islands

Cook Islands is a sitting duck for the infamous drug cartels that control the international drug flow, says a former Australian detective and Rarotonga-based private investigator.

And Rod Henderson said revelations that drug investigators from the United States will open a branch in New Zealand to clampdown on Mexican and South American cartels smuggling methamphetamine (meth) and cocaine in this part of the world was welcome news.

The New Zealand Herald in a documentary, “Fighting the Demon”, investigating New Zealand’s 20-year battle with methamphetamine addiction, revealed Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been granted permission to set up offices in Auckland and Wellington.

This establishment is an effort from the United States to work closely with Five Eyes allies Australia and New Zealand to combat organised crime.

The Herald also revealed Mexican cartel Sinaloa and rival cartel Jalisco, or CJNG, are behind an upswing in large shipments of methamphetamine and cocaine smuggled into New Zealand and Australia.

There have been reports of hard drugs such as meth and cocaine being supplied and consumed in the Cook Islands and it is believed to be mainly shipped from New Zealand.

CI News understands there are some meth cases before our courts, one including a man travelling from New Zealand, trying to smuggle the drug into the country. He was intercepted at the Rarotonga International Airport.

Private investigator Henderson said that there is no doubt the drug scourge presently invading neighbouring countries Fiji, Samoa and Tonga will soon be upon the Cook Islands.

He said these drug cartels were street smart and fed on our naivety and unpreparedness to transport them here.

Henderson said the current drugs of choice were methamphetamine more commonly known as meth, P or Ice and cocaine. 

Meth is an extremely addictive and dangerous drug that causes untold misery to the user and the community, he said.

“Cocaine is the cartel’s prime product and it is thought the Cook Islands are ideally placed for trans-shipment to New Zealand and Australia,” Henderson said.

“Drugs come into the Cook Islands by various ways and means. They are mailed in, easily purchased on the ‘dark web’ if you know the system. They can come by air-freight or by air passengers.

“It is very welcoming news that the U.S DEA department will set up in New Zealand to assist in the effort to curtail Mexico and South American cartel plans to control this part of the Pacific.”

Cook Islands Police acknowledged a number of drug cases including meth before court, adding their efforts in drug detection remain vigilant and ongoing.

And Police Commissioner Maara Tetava is confident that local law enforcement efforts in the fight against illicit drugs are continually being strengthened with international co-operation and the positive working relationships in place across a range of agencies, domestically and overseas.

Tetava welcomed the U.S DEA move as both significant and beneficial for the Pacific. 

The commissioner said he was encouraged by the level of recognition by the U.S government and its federal authorities that the trafficking of narcotics, such as methamphetamine, has seriously impacted the region, as it threatens the very stability of even the smallest of island communities. 

“The Cook Islands Police Service has been an ardent supporter of stronger international co-operation in intelligence gathering and sharing in the detection and crackdown of the illicit drug trade, and has been involved in a number of operations over the years with overseas agencies,” Tetava said.

“The network of intelligence sharing and drug detection across borders is improving but the efforts must be sustained at a considerably high level of awareness and alertness with all our key partners involved working together.”

According to intelligence reports, the Herald says 2018 was the first year in which the most methamphetamine seizures at the New Zealand border had been exported from the United States. It said Mexico was the most likely original source.

The report also said organised crime syndicates see the lucrative markets of Australia and New Zealand as a “two-for-one” deal, because of the close proximity of the two countries.

New Zealand Customs’ head of intelligence, investigations and enforcement Jamie Bamford told Herald the first methamphetamine shipment linked back to cartels was noticed by Customs in 2015.

Bamford said a kilogramme of methamphetamine might fetch US$1000 in Mexico and be worth US$5000 when smuggled into the United States but the same kilogramme is worth US$200,000 in New Zealand.

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