NZ Local News

Undercover police lured businessman to NZ before $1.5b cocaine bust

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An Australian businessman travelled across the ditch as part of a sting operation by undercover police who were posing as a drug cartel that claimed to have found masses of missing cocaine in New Zealand.

The Kiwi link to the scheme to import $1.5 billion of cocaine to Australia re-emerged at the sentencing this week in the New South Wales District Court of David John Edward Campbell for conspiring to possess a commercial quantity of cocaine.

The scheme was foiled by police and burst into public view with the arrest of three men at a hotel in the Serbian capital Belgrade in 2018, the ABC reported. They were extradited to Australia to face prosecution.

Campbell was the last of a trio to be sentenced for his involvement. Canberra businessman Rohan Arnold received 27 years in jail in 2020 after pleading guilty to conspiring to import 1.2 tonnes of cocaine into Australia.

Fellow Canberra businessman Campbell and nightclub boss Tristan Waters faced a two-month trial last year in Sydney, nearly six years after their dramatic arrest in Belgrade, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

A jury found them not guilty of conspiring to import the drugs, but returned a guilty verdict for Campbell on the lesser charge of conspiring to possess a commercial quantity of cocaine.

Serbian authorities found masses of cash when they arrested the Aussie trio at the Belgrade hotel in 2018. Photo / Serbian Interior Ministry
Serbian authorities found masses of cash when they arrested the Aussie trio at the Belgrade hotel in 2018. Photo / Serbian Interior Ministry

Waters had earlier pleaded guilty to that lesser charge. He was sentenced last month to 20 years in prison while Campbell this week received 18 years.

In April 2017, the Australian Border Force found 1.2 tonnes of cocaine hidden in steel beams in a shipping container originating from China, with a street value of up to $1.5 billion, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Authorities including Border Force and the Australian Federal Police then launched what would become a lengthy operation, sustaining the ruse that the container had gone missing.

An undercover officer pretended to have discovered the missing container in New Zealand in October 2017.

Serbian police arrested the men at a hotel in 2018 before they were extradited to Australia. Photo / Serbian Interior Ministry
Serbian police arrested the men at a hotel in 2018 before they were extradited to Australia. Photo / Serbian Interior Ministry

He asked for a $3 million finder’s fee. Campbell travelled to New Zealand to meet the undercover agent, who posed as a member of a rival cartel.

A handover of the cash was arranged for a hotel in Belgrade, where the trio were arrested. Campbell was waiting outside in a car with a gun.

At his sentencing, Campbell’s lawyer said he was “entirely dispensable, cannon fodder”, for the group, in which he held low status.

Sentencing Judge Phillip Mahony said while Campbell may have acted under duress, that was offset by his other actions, including acquiring a gun in Belgrade and voluntarily travelling to New Zealand.

He was handed a non-parole period of a little over 10 years.



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