24 years jail for NZ’s largest ever meth bust

Northern News - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS - DILEEPA FONSEKA

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.

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