Ex-Warriors star Manu Vatuvei jailed for importing meth

Yvonne Tahana
Source: 1News

Former NZ Warriors and Kiwis star Manu Vatuvei has been jailed for three years and seven months for importing methamphetamine.

Manu Vatuvei at sentencing

He pleaded guilty to a representative charge of importing nearly half a kilogram of the drug, plus an unknown amount inside another delivery.

It is one of the few crimes on our statute books that offenders can be sent to life for - a pointer to the social harm the drug causes. Judge Jonathan Moses told Vatuvei that he saw the despair the drug caused everyday.

His sentence in the Manukau District Court this morning marking what his own lawyer called a personal disgrace.

Vivian Feyen said "he has fallen from grace not a little, but a long way".

Once affectionately known as The Beast by New Zealand Warriors fans Feyen argued that it was the desire to help a brother in hospital, and the end of his career which put him in a dark spot.

"We have a situation where an individual since 2002 up to 2017 had spent his life in a very structured environment.... [he had] a raft of guidance and support...he joined the Warriors at 16, made his debut at 18.

"He was ill-equipped to make those fundamental life transitions and that goes to the heart of his decision making."

He was sentenced today with an older brother, Lopine Mafi, who police say was the chief ringleader of the operation. Mafi was jailed for seven years, two months.

Judge Moses told Vatuvei that his final legacy did not have to be defined by today and that when he was released he would "still have a lot of life to live."

In October 2019 police and customs established Operation Clydesdale.

It identified a number of packages containing methamphetamine imported into New Zealand through the mail from Mexico, India, Africa, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The summary of facts outlining how Vatuvei assisted the chief ringleader, his brother Lopini Mafi, by dealing with import arrangements, making inquiries about imported packages and directing others.

Authorities say that between July and November 2019 at least two kilograms of meth was imported into the country across separate incidents, but the true total won't ever be known as other packages weren't intercepted.

Vatuvei previously admitted importing 487.5 grams of the drug.

November 29 marked the end of the illegal enterprise, with a timeline provided to the court showing how events unfolded that day.

At 2:11pm the siblings were at a Papatoetoe home they shared. Police monitored them opening a package they believed to be methamphetamine but which actually contained a placebo. Officials had marked it with a chemical powder, the handling of which would result in spores being transferred onto their clothing and skin.

At 2:25pm police swooped in, executing a search warrant, arresting the pair and finding a money counter, empty point bags, a Pyrex dish and a bed sheet all found to have white residue on them. Police also found cell phones, sim card packs and ammunition.

A light also shone of the minutia of the police work involved. including the monitoring of text messages and calls.

One between Vatuvei and another associate talk about a delivery.

Vatuvei: "You get it", his associate answers "hell yeah" before Vatuvei tells him "Lesssgooooo once I'm done here I'll come down and then we can open it up sweet".

Lessgo is a popular saying made famous by a NZ Warriors fan.

In another instance Vatuvei called a courier company from his cellphone inquiring about a package originating in South Africa, it was found to contain 1.177 kilograms concealed inside a suitcase.