Multiple police drug busts across South Island

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Apr 19, 2023 |

A significant Police operation has taken place against a Central Otago-based drug syndicate accused of producing commercial-scale quantities of cannabis in south Westland, and bringing methamphetamine into Cromwell.

Three people face 28 charges following the execution of warrants at properties in Cromwell, Tarras and the Haast area yesterday.

It is the result of more than a year of planning.

One man faces 12 charges relating to methamphetamine, cannabis and firearms.

More than 70 Police officers from Christchurch, Dunedin, and the West Coast were enlisted for the operation, including members of the Armed Offenders Squad, the Specialist Search Group, and dogs trained in detecting guns, cash and drugs.

The operation’s one of the most significant in the area in recent years, says District Manager Criminal Investigations Detective Inspector Shona Low.

“We have targeted a commercial crime group that’s been causing harm by pumping drugs into Central Otago and the West Coast – solely to make money for the people behind it.

“These communities can be assured that due to this operation’s success, we have dealt a blow to organised criminal activity in the area.”

Of those charged:

  • One man faces eight charges related to the sale and supply of cannabis, and the supply of methamphetamine.

  • A second man faces eight charges related to the unlawful possession of firearms, the supply of methamphetamine, the supply of cannabis, and failing to comply.

  • A third man faces 12 charges related to the supply of methamphetamine, the sale and supply of cannabis, unlawful possession of firearms, and possession of cannabis.

The three are due to appear in Queenstown District Court today.

Further charges and arrests are likely.

Work on the campaign, dubbed Operation Vintage, began in March 2022, following concerns around an influx of drugs and associated harm in Cromwell.

Enquiries led Police to properties in the Cromwell, Tarras and Haast area, and to remote areas of Crown Lease land and DOC land in south Westland, where Police yesterday located two large plots and a number of smaller ones.

Cannabis plants in one plot were found dotted over an 8km area.

A significant quantity of cannabis, 21 firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition were recovered by the afternoon.

The cannabis recovery operation continues today.

The suspects have close ties to the Central Otago area, Detective Inspector Low says.

“There has been a real effort to hide growing sites.

They have been found deep in the wilderness, in areas where hunters would be unlikely to stumble across them.

It takes considerable effort to get to the areas where these plants have been growing.”

Drones from the Specialist Search Group assisted Police in locating areas of interest in the isolated bush area, while officers travelled by helicopter and foot – retracing the challenging routes taken by those accused of growing the plants.

“Small communities aren’t exempt from organised crime, and this shows the lengths we are willing to go to disrupt that.

This commercial operation was designed to make money for those running it, with no regard for the harm it caused to people at the other end,” Detective Inspector Low says.

“This is not a Police operation targeting small-time growers.

It sought to disrupt a significant illicit campaign that contributed to harm in the small towns of Cromwell and Haast.

This is not about personal use or low-level offending, this is about large-scale operations who profit from the considerable harm.

“Thousands of hours of work have gone into Operation Vintage and our enquiries are ongoing, but I’m confident these arrests will go a long way to making our communities safer.

It also sends the message that organised crime is not welcome here.”

Nationwide, the large-scale production and sale of cannabis, along with other drugs such as methamphetamine, generates significant income for organised criminals, enabling the accumulation of significant wealth and assets.

Gangs and organised crime groups can use the profits from cannabis sales to fund the purchase and sale of more harmful drugs.

They flaunt their wealth through social media, attracting young people into their lifestyle.

Police want to remind people that we rely on the public to help stamp out this offending, by supplying information to us to help form a picture of what’s happening in our communities.

“You may feel like the information you have is not significant, however, it could be the missing piece of the puzzle Police need to put offenders before the court.”

Information can be passed to Police via 105 by phone on online, or alternatively information can be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online at

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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