Customs fooled by drug mule

Customs' officers were given the slip by an alleged drug mule who escaped an Auckland hotel. Photo: Shane Cowlishaw

In what sounds like the plotline of a Hollywood movie, a man accused of importing cocaine escaped custody after a string of blunders by the Customs service. Shane Cowlishaw reports.

Using his hoodie and some pillows, an alleged drug mule slipped his oblivious guards and escaped out an Auckland hotel window.

It is understood the man was arrested in May at Auckland Airport after being found with cocaine.

After being searched he was arrested by Customs officers, who decided to go through with the planned delivery of the drugs as part of a controlled operation.

But while staff stood guard outside a central Auckland hotel room the man used his hoodie and pillows to make it appear he was asleep in bed and jumped out a window.

It is understood it was several hours before his deception was realised.

With the help of police, the man was later discovered at an East Auckland motel that he had originally booked before being arrested.

While the man had no passport and could not flee the country, it is understood he was found with cash on him.

'I'll have that back'

When initially stopped at the airport he was asked to empty his pockets and wallet onto a bench while his bag was searched.

But while officers were distracted doing that, he managed to swipe the cash back. After his arrest he was not searched again despite it being protocol.

Meka Whaitiri, the minister responsible for Customs, said she had been unhappy when told about the incident earlier this month.

A mistake like this was one too many and she expected a thorough review of what had gone wrong, she said.

“At the time I was briefed I made it really clear with Customs that, obviously, any breach of our security is not good.

“I’ve laid out my expectations … they’ve got it very clear from me that it’s a breach of our safe systems and I expect improvement.”

Jamie Bamford, Group Manager Intelligence Investigations and Enforcement, confirmed the incident and said an independent review had started.

No further comment could be made while the matter was before the court, he said. Police also declined to comment.

New Zealand has some of the highest recreational drug prices in the world, making it an attractive proposition for smugglers.

This year several people have been jailed, including two Israeli citizens caught with $2 million of ecstasy in a suitcase and a New Zealand-American citizen who ran a syndicate that smuggled methamphetamine into the country inside women’s bodies.

Authorities seized three times more cocaine last year than the year before, totalling 108kg.

Almost half of that was seized at the end of 2017 when four foreign citizens were arrested and $20m of cocaine was discovered at a Tauranga address following a five-month investigation.