New Zealand
Organised crime bust: Navy officer accused of conspiring to import cocaine

A New Zealand navy officer has been accused of conspiring to import cocaine following one of the biggest international crime busts in modern times.

Darren Miini Kerekere Katipa, 42, was arrested in early June. Source: 1 NEWS

Darren Miini Kerekere Katipa, 42, was arrested in early June following Operation Van, a long-running investigation into organised crime in New Zealand.

He is a warrant officer for the New Zealand Navy - his LinkedIn profile states he has worked in the Navy since January 1997.

Katipa, who lives in Rotorua, pleaded not guilty last month in the Auckland District Court to one charge of conspiring to import cocaine.

His co-accused includes Shane Ngakuru; a New Zealander who is believed to be on the run in Thailand and is wanted by the FBI for allegedly distributing devices with an encrypted communication application called ANOM installed on them.

Thousands of criminals across the world were said to be using ANOM to communicate, however in June 2021 it was revealed that the app was secretly set up and operated by the FBI.

Twenty-seven million messages were intercepted, and in early June 9,000 law enforcement officers across the world raided more than 700 locations, culminating in more than 500 arrests.

Ngakuru also faces various drug importation charges in New Zealand, although New Zealand has no extradition treaty with Thailand.

Duax Ngakuru is also listed as one of Katipa's co-defendants - he is believed to be in Turkey.

There are several other co-defendants who still have name suppression.

42-year-old Darren Miini Kerekere Katipa Source: 1 NEWS

Katipa were amongst the first 35 people arrested in New Zealand. The maximum penalty for conspiring to import a class A drug is 14 years in prison.

He was initially granted interim name and occupation name suppression, but yesterday Judge Nevin Dawson declined an application at the Auckland District Court for that to continue.

Suppression lapsed at midday today, and the courts confirmed to 1 NEWS that no application to appeal was filed.

"Katipa does not wish to make any comment at this time, other than to emphasise that he denies any suggestion of criminal wrongdoing," Katipa's lawyer, Todd Simmonds, told 1 NEWS.

The New Zealand Navy refused to confirm any details as to Katipa's role.

"As this matter is before the courts, the NZDF will not be making any comment at this time," a spokesperson said.


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