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‘Whole lot of people’: Questions over Aussie link to 3.5 tonne Fiji meth bust

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Two local men are reportedly being questioned after a 3.5 tonne methamphetamine bust in Fiji, as police probe the origins and destination of the drugs.

The drugs were found in a small, unfinished home in a quiet community near the nation’s main international airport. It has been called one of the country’s biggest ever drug busts.

Police are also looking into claims the drugs were bound for Australia, with the home affairs minister saying “a whole lot of people” were involved.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) declined to comment if they had any involvement in the raid, or if they were in contact with their Fijian counterparts.

“This is a Fiji Police Force operation,” AFP said in reply to questions from RNZ Pacific.

Acting Fiji police commissioner Juki Fong Chew did not provide further details.

He told RNZ Pacific police were “in the initial stage of investigations”, saying questions about the origin and destination would be answered “as we proceed along”.

Juki Fong Chew

Juki Fong Chew Photo: Fiji Police

However, assistant commissioner for crime Mesake Waqa told local radio broadcaster fijivillage.com police were looking at “information received that the large drug consignment was destined for Australia”.

He added police were “not ruling out the allegation that some police and customs officers may be involved in the drug operation”.

Waka on Tuesday said an investigation was also looking into whether prominent figures and some people linked to pharmaceutical companies were connected to the shipment.

The drugs, in nearly 800 medium size-containers and wrapped in brown tape, were found at “an incomplete corrugated iron home in a quiet neighbourhood in Voivoi, Legalega in Nadi”, The Fiji Times reported.

A community elder and retired school teacher, Abhiram, told the newspaper: “This is a peaceful, crime-free neighbourhood, nothing of this sort happens here.”

Pio Tikoduadua

Pio Tikoduadua Photo: Facebook / Fiji Government

‘Network’ of people involved

Home Affairs Minister Pio Tikoduadua has said strengthening Fiji’s border security was now a top priority.

“How do you stay ahead so that you don’t get surprised?” Tikoduadua said.

“It’s normal that things pass through, but why does three tonnes pass through? That is big. How did it ever get to Nadi?” he said to local journalists.

“There’s a whole lot of people that are handling that, and that’s the extent of this network.”

VIA RNZ

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Iran President Ebrahim Raisi, supreme leader’s protégé, dies at 63 in helicopter crash

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and others have been found dead at the site of a helicopter crash on Monday after an hours-long search through a foggy, mountainous region of the country’s northwest, state media reported. Raisi was 63.

The crash comes as the Middle East remains unsettled by the Israel-Hamas war, during which Raisi under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel just last month.

Under Raisi, Iran enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, further escalating tensions with the West as Tehran also supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine and armed militia groups across the region.

Meanwhile, Iran has faced years of mass protests against its Shiite theocracy over its ailing economy and women’s rights – making the moment that much more sensitive for Tehran and the future of the country.

State TV gave no immediate cause for the crash in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. Among the dead was Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, 60.

With Raisi were Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

This frame grab from video released by the Iranian Red Crescent on May 20, 2024 shows members of a search and rescue team in Iran's East Azerbaijan province where Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi's helicopter was involved in "an accident". Rescue teams in northwest Iran early May 20 located the missing helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi but no signs of life had been detected so far, state TV reported. (Photo by Handout / Iranian Red Crescent / AFP)

This frame grab from video released by the Iranian Red Crescent on May 20, 2024 shows members of a search and rescue team in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province where Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter was involved in “an accident”. Photo: Iranian Red Crescent / AFP

Early on Monday morning, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be wreckage of helicopter.” The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20km south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.

Footage released by the IRNA early Monday showed what the agency described as the crash site, across a steep valley in a green mountain range. Soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language said: “There it is, we found it.”

Khamenei himself urged the public to pray Sunday night.

“We hope that God the Almighty returns the dear president and his colleagues in full health to the arms of the nation,” Khamenei said, drawing an “amen” from the worshipers he was addressing.

However, the supreme leader also stressed the business of Iran’s government would continue no matter what. Under the Iranian constitution, Iran’s vice first president takes over if the president dies with Khamenei’s assent, and a new presidential election would be called within 50 days.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber already had begun receiving calls from officials and foreign governments in Raisi’s absence, state media reported.

Raisi, 63, a hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary, was viewed as a protégé of Khamenei and some analysts suggested he could have replaced the 85-year-old leader after Khamenei’s death or resignation.

Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Raisi was sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also has continued arming proxy groups in the Mideast, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, mass protests in the country have raged for years. The most recent involved the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had been earlier detained over allegedly not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities. The months-long security crackdown that followed the demonstrations killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained.

In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.

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Group of Bangladeshis denied entry for ‘attempting to board flight inappropriately’

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Twenty-five Bangladeshi men who tried to enter the country without a visa are likely victims of people smugglers, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) says.

It was worried by the size of the group and said it was extremely unusual.

The men had electronic travel authorities, or ETAs, for a stopover in New Zealand but were denied boarding in Dhaka.

Inquiries suggested they were not going to transit to Australia or to take a cruise, as they could with an ETA, and instead intended to stay in New Zealand.

“The way that the immigration systems work is we check the information of the passenger and check against immigration records and other records.

“And we were able to say very quickly those passengers did not have a visa to enter Australia, they did not have to travel booking to take them to Australia. It quickly became evident that they were attempting to board that flight inappropriately.”

INZ national border manager Peter Elms said it highlighted the people smugglers, who exploited people’s dreams of coming here.

He suspected they had been fooled and paid a lot of money before being found out.

“I think it’s quite possible that there is a facilitator in the background, who is advising people that they can obtain travel authorities or visas for people to come to New Zealand.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of people who have attempted to travel illegally, and on average INZ prevents about 400 people every month from being able to board planes to come here.”

The large group coming from Dhaka was extremely unusual, he said, but demonstrated the lengths people would go to to reach New Zealand.

“It also shines a light on the people smugglers who work behind the scenes to try and find gaps in border security systems worldwide, and their willingness to exploit vulnerable migrants. Because at the end of the day, all they’re worried about is the money.

“So this is a message that goes out to those would-be smugglers that New Zealand is alert to that and that their attempt to do this will not go undetected. And that we will look into the background, the circumstances of these cases and where we do find evidence to indicate who the perpetrators are, we will take action.”

VIA RNZ

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Members of Parliament and Prime Minister to get pay rise

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Politicians are in for a pay rise after the Remuneration Authority determined MPs salaries should go up by 2.8 percent.

The independent body, responsible for setting pay for key public office holders, has reported back on its review into MP’s remuneration on Tuesday afternoon.

It has set an ordinary MPs’ salary at $168,600 a year, up from $163,961.

The prime minister’s salary will rise to $484,200 and the deputy prime minister’s salary to $344,100.

However, Christopher Luxon has indicated he does not want or need the increase – and will be donating his to charity.

Ministers inside Cabinet will earn $304,300 and Ministers outside Cabinet $256,800.

Although the Remuneration Authority sets the pay for these roles, Parliament can pass legislation to overrule it.

This happened in 2018, when Dame Jacinda Ardern instituted a pay freeze for MPs and in 2020 when her Cabinet voted to take a pay cut during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has been 20 years since MP remuneration was fully reviewed and more than six since politicians got a pay rise.

The Remuneration Authority is legally required to consider “prevailing adverse economic conditions” when determining remuneration rates.

In this review, it formed the view there was not a compelling case that meets this legislative test.

The authority looked at the pay of MPs in other Westminster style democracies and remuneration paid elsewhere within New Zealand in both the public and private sectors.

The comparisons showed New Zealand MPs’ salaries were less than the salaries of almost all those comparisons.

VIA RNZ

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