New Zealand authorities arrested three men accused of smuggling drugs into the country after making the largest-ever cocaine seizure in the nation's history, police said Saturday.
The men were arrested after customs officers found 35 bricks of high-grade cocaine in a horse sculpture. The 880-pound sculpture was sent from Mexico and raised the suspicions of customs officers in early May.
New Zealand police estimate the seized cocaine is worth about $14 million ($10 million USD).
"This is obviously an extremely large amount of cocaine, and in the past we've only found very small amounts of this drug," said Det. Senior Sgt. Colin Parmenter, officer-in-charge of New Zealand Police's Organized Crime team in Auckland.
On average, Permenter said, police seize half a pound of cocaine per year.
"What this find tells us, though, is that there is obviously a demand for it," 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 naive to think otherwise."
Two of the arrested men, a 44-year-old Mexican national and a 56-year-old American national, were arrested late Friday at Auckland International Airport as they tried to catch a flight to Hawaii. The third man, a 29-year-old Mexican national, was arrested Saturday in Christchurch.
All three men face charges of importing a Class A drug and possession for supply of a Class A drug. The charges are punishable by life imprisonment.