Cocaine market is exploding, drug cop tells Bastion Pt-Russian sailor trial in Auckland

Detectives and a Customs officer secretly broke into an apartment one block away from the court where three men now stand trial accused of importing cocaine.

That covert search was relayed to jurors at the Bastion Pt cocaine trial today.

So was surging cocaine consumption, with a detective saying the formerly “high society” niche narcotic was now drug of choice for a wide range of people.

Polish men Patryk Lukasz Lukasik and Ryszard Wilk and Russian sailor Aleksandr Cherushev have pleaded not guilty at the High Court in Auckland to importing cocaine.

Jurors heard Wilk’s son Ralph, already convicted of drug supply, attracted attention from Customs and the police National Organised Crime Group.

Investigators secured a warrant to covertly search Ralph Wilk’s apartment at The Quadrant Hotel & Suites on July 4, 2017.

Staff who entered the Waterloo Quadrant unit found an empty Vodafone SIM card packet and a plastic bag filled with cash.

On that day, the cash was photographed but not counted and investigators left the room, locking the door when they departed.

Detective Sergeant John Sowter said another covert search was carried out three days later.

Jurors heard piles of cash in big denominations were found but again, investigators did not linger in Wilk’s unit.

“The purpose of the covert warrant is to try and make it look like we haven’t been in someone’s apartment,” Sowter said.

“We try to leave things as intact as we possibly can, just so there’s no indicators when a suspect returns to their location and notices things have moved.

“We like to get in quick and get out as quick as we can.”

Eventually, the cash was counted. Sowter said it tallied up to NZ$116,100 and US$10,000.

The court heard police spent months tracking the Wilks across the North Island.

“Was this 24/7 stuff from the movies?” prosecutor Brian Dickey asked.

“We compete with other investigations going on,” Sowter said.

“We’ll also just try to randomly put surveillance on people because often you won’t pick anything up off the communications.”

Russian sailor Aleksandr Cherushev’s lawyer Ron Mansfield asked about the cocaine market’s nuances.

“It’s historically been a more high society-type drug,” Sowter replied.

“Its cost now isn’t prohibitive because it’s generally cheaper than methamphetamine.”

The detective suggested people with disposable income or above-average salaries were traditionally among those likely to use cocaine.

“Like lawyers,” he added, to laughter from the jury and defendants.

Mansfield asked about cocaine importation levels.

“We still have our person going on the dark web and ordering small amounts of cocaine but certainly in my time, quantities of drugs have increased dramatically.”

Sowter said “a vast array of people” now used cocaine and increasingly large consignments were being imported.

Jurors have heard about screeds of translated conversations and other content police found on seized devices.

Some people discussed in seized communications were known only as Seraphim, J23 and Baldie.

Sowter, quizzed on Baldie’s identity, replied: “There’s a few bald gentlemen involved in this case but we don’t know who they’re talking about.”

The court heard the Wilks engaged in tourist activities, visiting places including Rotorua.

Ryszard Wilk’s barrister Annabel Ives asked about an “alpaca or some other farm animal” seen in seized photos.

“There were a lot of photos of all sorts of things,” Detective Victoria Patten replied.

The court previously heard police found directions on Ralph Wilk’s Signal messaging app to an alleged drug stash at Auckland’s Bastion Pt.

Only 3.5g of cocaine was found at Bastion Pt but the Crown alleges the Wilks, Lukasik, and Cherushev were part of a bigger drug racket.

The Crown has claimed Cherushev imported around 4kg of cocaine as chief officer on Discovery Bay, a container ship arriving from Ecuador.

The trial before Justice Tracey Walker and the jury continues.

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