Ten Malaysians posing as an organized tour group were caught entering New Zealand with up to a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of methamphetamine in each of their shoes, an official said Wednesday.
The bust at Auckland Airport on Tuesday was the largest number of drug couriers caught in a single incident at New Zealand's border, customs official Mark Day said. The drugs recovered were worth about $8 million, he said.
Day said the alleged traffickers posed as a tour group apparently hoping it would help them avoid scrutiny. A group of alleged traffickers from Taiwan were caught trying to use a similar tactic last year, he said.
The listed occupations, trip itineraries and amount of luggage carried by the travelers — and the apparent trouble they had walking properly in their shoes — caught the attention of officers, Radio New Zealand reported, citing Day.
"They had things like itineraries that were in English but (they) couldn't speak English ... those are the sorts of things that stand out like beacons to us," Day said, according to TV New Zealand. The eight men and two women, aged 21 to 68, claimed to be employed as waiters and builders, the network reported.
In Tuesday's incident, customs officers searched two members of the group and found methamphetamine, also known as ice, in their shoes, Day said. The remainder of the group were then searched and were also found to be carrying drugs, he said.
The 10 appeared Wednesday in Manukau District Court on illegal drug importing charges and were remanded in police custody for a court hearing in May.
Citing court documents, Radio New Zealand identified the men and women as Eng Hin Ong, Yuen Fatt Wong,Teng Kim Ooi, Ah Kooi Teoh, Eng Wan Teoh, Lian Fong Wong, Sit Mooi En, Waihong Leong, Tan Ah Nya and Ewe Hoe Ong.
They each face up to life in prison if convicted of supplying methamphetamine, classified as a Class A illegal drug under New Zealand law. A conviction on possession charges carries a six-month prison term.
The Malaysian Foreign Ministry reported that through March 31 of this year, nearly half — 833 of 1,800 — of the country's citizens arrested overseas were detained on drug-related charges, the Malaysian Star reported.