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Third arrest in record cocaine bust

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 1/07/2016

A third person has been arrested following the discovery of a record $14 million cocaine shipment inside a diamante-encrusted horse head statue.

The arrests come after Customs seized 35 one-kilogram bricks of the drug inside a 400-kilogram sculpture flown in from Mexico in May.

Police say two of the men, a 44-year-old from Mexico and a 56-year-old American, were caught at Auckland International Airport on Friday night and charged with importing a class A drug.

Superintendent Virginia Le Bas told reporters they were due to leave for Hawaii.

The pair appeared in the Manukau District Court on Saturday and were remanded in custody until next week.

A third man, also from Mexico, was arrested on Saturday in Christchurch as police searched two homes in the suburb of Linwood.

He will appear in court on Monday.

Police are also searching a home in Auckland's Te Atatu and have not ruled out further arrests.

"There is a significant organised crime group offshore that will be responsible for this," Supt Le Bas said.

Detective Senior Sergeant Colin Parmenter said officers usually only seized about 250g of cocaine a year on average.

"This is obviously an extremely large amount of cocaine and in the past we've only found very small amounts of this drug," he said.

"While it's possible that this statue may have been sent on to another country, there's every possibility that the cocaine was destined for the New Zealand market and we would be naïve to think otherwise."

Importation of a class A drug is punishable by life imprisonment.

The police seizure comes just weeks after officers found a record-breaking $496m worth of methamphetamine in Northland.

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