November 16, 2018 / 3:02 AM / 24 days ago

New Zealand police seize 190 kg of cocaine hidden in banana shipment

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand police and customs officials said on Friday they seized 190 kg (418.9 pounds) of cocaine with a street value of up to NZ$36 million ($25 million) that arrived in Auckland in a shipment of bananas, the country’s largest-ever drug bust.

A 41-year-old man was arrested in neighboring Australia in connection with the seizure, New Zealand authorities said in a statement. Police put the street value of the cocaine at between NZ$28 million and NZ$36 million ($19 million-$25 million).

The haul followed an Australian investigation into an organized crime group. Officials there said a potential shipment of illicit drugs was heading to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, after leaving Balboa, Panama, on Aug. 4.

The shipment arrived in Auckland on Aug. 20. Authorities inspected the container and found five duffle bags on top of banana boxes that contained 190 blocks of cocaine, each weighing around a kilogram.

The joint investigation between New Zealand and Australian authorities concluded in the past 24 hours with the arrest of the unidentified man in Sydney, the statement said.

Police said the drugs were destined for Australia.

“This seizure has stopped what would have been a very significant amount of harm,” New Zealand’s Minister of Customs Kris Faafoi said in a separate statement.

(The story, in first paragraph, corrects conversion of 190 kgs to 418.9 pounds, not 420,000 pounds.)

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Paul Tait

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