A gambler who used a false identity to secretly import $150 million worth of drugs into New Zealand has been jailed for nearly a decade.
Liang Wang, 35, appeared at Auckland District Court yesterday and was sentenced to eight years and two months in prison for importing a class B controlled drug.
The case began in April last year when 80 cardboard boxes arrived in Auckland from China.
Inside the boxes were bundles of documents and papers. However, Customs officers felt the shipment was suspicious and upon inspection found concealed cavities within the packages.
Hidden inside was an astonishing 200kg of ephedrine, a drug used to cook methamphetamine.
It was the largest amount of ephedrine ever smuggled into New Zealand, and authorities have estimated it had a street value of $150 million.
Previously, the largest seizure of ephedrine was about 95kg which was concealed in a shipment of children’s toys in October 2015.
During Wang’s sentencing, Judge Philippa Anne Cunningham said the court was dealing with a case which had an “absence of something like this happening before”.
“Mr Wang and others have been charged with importing, with what appears to be, the largest consignment of ephedrine imported into New Zealand,” she said.
The drugs were destined for “Zhan Yu Zhu” and an address in the Auckland suburb of Hillsborough, the court heard.
“I understand that Zhan Yu Zu is the identity of Mr Wang,” Judge Cunningham said.
Once Customs officials intercepted the boxes at the border, a controlled delivery was set in motion with all but 10g of the ephedrine removed and replaced with a placebo.
The delivery then took place as planned. But undercover police were watching after being granted surveillance warrants to monitor the address, phone calls and electronic messages.
The intercepted texts and phone calls showed Wang “appeared to have been very much in charge of the delivery”, the Judge Cunningham said.
The drugs arrived at the Hillsborough property on May 9, and when Wang and his co-accused returned on May 13 they opened the package and began loading the placebo drugs into a vehicle.
Police then pounced and arrested the pair.
The raid was part of several throughout the day as police searched nine properties they had been monitoring across the city, including in Ponsonby, central Auckland, Mt Roskill and Flat Bush.
Three people were arrested during the operation.
“The main aggravating feature is clearly the amount of ephedrine,” Judge Cunningham said. “And the fact that disguises were used – this was a sophisticated operation which appeared to involve others.”
She said it was accepted that Wang played a “primary role” in the scheme.
A pre sentence report also noted Wang was in a position of financial difficulty, which had been complicated by his gambling addiction.
“He got greedy … he did something that appears to me to be out of character for him,” Judge Cunningham said.
In a written letter of remorse to the court Wang said he appreciated the foolishness of his offending, that he had let down his family, and acknowledged the harm the drugs would have caused the community.
Wang, an only child, was supported in court by his mother who was seated in the public gallery.
“When you are released from prison is a matter for the parole board,” the judge said.
Wang had entered a guilty plea on May 2 this year, while his co-accused has pleaded not guilty and is currently at trial before a jury. However, there is still significant confusion about who exactly was involved and pulling the strings in the scheme, including the suspicious involvement of a tour party which was turned away at the border, the court heard.
There are also several other elements to the case which the Herald is unable to report due to court suppression orders.
Detective inspector Scott Beard, of the Organised Crime team, has said the circumstances of the drug bust seemed “like something out of a movie”.
“The reality is there are families out there who are being destroyed by meth, kids who are growing up in contaminated homes and innocent people who are victims of serious crime as a result of this drug. It is a truly awful drug.”
Ephedrine is a more pure drug than pseudoephedrine, another ingredient which can be used to manufacture meth. NZME