Authorities believe the shipment was arranged by an organized crime group that is also alleged to have smuggled several tons of methamphetamine to Australia in canola oil containers from Canada. Authorities in Canada, Australia and New Zealand have worked for five months to bust the scheme.
So far, a dozen people involved in the plot have been arrested in New Zealand and Australia, and more arrests are expected, authorities said.
New Zealand just found 3.5 tons of cocaine floating in the Pacific
Canada accounts for about 75 percent of the world’s maple syrup production, according to government data, and is also the world leader in canola oil exports, the Canola Council of Canada says — making both products’ packaging a fitting Trojan horse.
According to police photos, the methamphetamine bound for New Zealand was packaged inside large maple syrup jugs labeled with the name of a Quebec-based business.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said in a statement that “the international drug trade and organized crime groups are creating havoc and harm in communities around the globe,” and that the police remain committed to “disrupting and dismantling drug networks” through an international approach.
In January, Canadian officials sparked the investigation when they flagged a suspicious Australia-bound shipment that appeared to contain 180 bottles of canola oil but was actually a ruse to transport 2,900 liters (766 gallons) of liquid methamphetamine, Australian and New Zealand police said. The shipment had an estimated street value of 720 million Australian dollars (about $495 million).
In four instances, the Australian authorities said they prevented more than six tons of methamphetamine from entering Australia.
Two men from Melbourne, Australia, ages 32 and 38, are facing a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for their alleged roles in trafficking the illicit substance, according to the statement. Three other men, including a U.S. national, are also accused of running a clandestine lab in Melbourne, which contained large amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine and drug manufacturing equipment.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Robert Hill attributed the influx of methamphetamine to what he called “the insatiable appetite for illicit drugs in Australia” which, he said, “makes us a lucrative market for organized crime.”
Australian media reported last year that the nation topped an international list for per capita methamphetamine use, based on analysis of wastewater.
The Australian Federal Police’s chief medical officer, Alison Money, said in Thursday’s statement that a single episode of methamphetamine use can result in addiction. It “profoundly impacts every major organ system we have,” she said.