Smuggling gang | 

Dubliner facing extradition to New Zealand over allegedly masterminding €30m drugs haul

Mark 'Baldy' Byrne (50) was put on a 'most wanted' list in New Zealand as part of a probe into a 500kg methamphetamine haul

Mark ‘Baldy’ Byrne being led away by Spanish police

Alan Sherry

An Irishman arrested in Spain earlier this year is facing extradition to New Zealand over allegedly masterminding a €30m drugs haul three years ago.

Dubliner Mark Byrne (50) was put on a 'most wanted' list in New Zealand as part of a probe into a 500kg methamphetamine haul, which was smuggled into the country in April 2019.

Five men linked to a criminal syndicate based in the UK were arrested in New Zealand in relation to the haul as part of an Operation Essex, with some already prosecuted.

However, the investigation continued and New Zealand authorities allege that Byrne masterminded the drugs shipment, which was the second-biggest meth haul in the country's history.

In November, Byrne was charged in his absence at Tauranga District Court in New Zealand with importing a Class-A Drug, possession for supply, and participating in an organised criminal group.

A warrant was issued for his arrest and circulated to Interpol as his location was unknown at the time.

The Interpol alert said Byrne, who goes by the nickname 'Baldy' in the underworld, could have been in the UK, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates or Spain and could be travelling under a false identity.

Spanish cops then tracked him down to the Sierra Nevada ski resort in Granada in January, and set up an operation to locate him among thousands of visitors who had descended on the area for Three Kings Day.

"We were really blown away from the initiative and resources the Spanish police put into tracking Byrne down," Detective Inspector Paul Newman, of the New Zealand National Organised Crime Group, told the New Zealand Herald this week.

A Spanish court will now decided on whether Byrne can be extradited to face the charges.

DI Newman said that the process of getting Byrne to New Zealand is legally complicated but would send a strong message to organised crime figures based abroad.

"Trans-national crime groups see New Zealand as a lucrative market and are trying to flood our country with drugs which really attack the heart of our communities," said Newman.

"These types of arrests send a clear message that the world is getting smaller, that global law enforcement agencies are better connected and are working together to track down and hold these [alleged] offenders to account."

A number of people have already been prosecuted in relation to the haul, including Anthony Charles Netzler, a martial arts expert who at one time worked as a bodyguard for Phil Rudd of AC/DC

Netzler flew from Bangkok to New Zealand in December 2018 to meet with senior members of a UK-based crime syndicate.

In April 2019, he travelled by boat to pick up the 500kg meth haul from a catamaran in the ocean off New Zealand and bring it back to shore. He was sentenced to 15 years and seven months.

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