24 years jail for NZ’s largest ever meth bust
A man who was heavily involved in New Zealand’s largest ever meth bust has been sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Australian national Malachi Tuilotolava will spend a minimum of 10 years behind bars for his role in the botched importation of 501kg of methamphetamine on Ninety Mile Beach in 2016.
Half a tonne of the drug was seized after suspicion was aroused and the eight-person operation collapsed dubbed at the time as ‘‘a comedy of errors’’.
The 26-year-old helped organise the burial of a smaller batch of the huge consignment in sand dunes along a stretch of the Northland beach.
The rest of the illegal haul - in all, estimated to have fetched between $130 and $150 million - was transported in a hired campervan and intercepted by police in Northland.
On October 26, Tuilotolava was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment in the Wha¯ ngarei High Court for his role in the failed importation. He pleaded guilty to one charge of participating in an organised criminal group and another of importing methamphetamine.
Justice Downs said Tuilotolava, an Australian citizen of Tongan descent, was the ‘‘trusted lieutenant’’ of Jermiah Iusitini, the man heading the New Zealand side of the operation.
Tuilotolava’s lawyer argued he was merely the ‘‘soldier carrying the radio’’. He described him as the ‘‘grunt on the ground’’ as he was the member of the eight-person drug ring capable of receiving calls from Iuisitini because of poor cellphone coverage in the area.
However, Justice Downs said Tuilotolava’s involvement was far greater. He said he had personally paid for two boats with cash - intended to pick up the drug consignment at sea - and was the only one of the group to fly with Iusitini to Bangkok prior to the bust. ‘‘Mr Iusitini did not, it appears, ever go to Northland. He did not need to. You were his lieutenant.’’
Three of those accused in the incident pled guilty and have already been convicted. Others charged over the incident, who pleaded not guilty, are set to face trial in April next year.