Hunt for alleged $1bn cocaine yacht owner leads to secretive Cook Islands trust
18 Sep 2019

The identity of those who own the stricken yacht that ran aground on a Western Australia reef allegedly carrying $1 billion of illicit drugs has been masked in secrecy.

But nine.com.au can reveal a faceless offshore trust set up in the secretive Cook Islands is the registered owner of the Zero, a 15-metre vessel which had almost reached Australian shores before it shipwrecked.

Exactly who the individuals are behind the tightly-guarded trust, which nine.com.au has chosen not to name, is one of many intriguing questions Western Australian Police, US Drug Enforcement Agency and UK’s National Crime Agency are now trying to crack.

The international investigation launched two weeks ago, after local WA fishermen discovered the Zero stranded near Stick Island, in the Abrolhos Islands group about 60km west of Geraldton.

Men boarded the white single-masted yacht only to find it abandoned. The Zero’s dinghy was also gone, leading to fears those on board may need help.

A search and rescue operation was launched, but when a man in a hot pink shirt tried to hide as a spotter plane flew over a nearby island, a different picture began to emerge.

On the sparse island, police found two men, a French and British national.

Crudely hidden under piles of seaweed was cargo allegedly destined for Australia – 40 large bags of cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy, weighing one tonne.

During a media briefing where the “colossal” seizure was announced, WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson refused to disclose where the Zero had set sail from.

“The fact we have got European men in our courts would probably give some indication to the [yacht’s origins],” was the only hint Commissioner Dawson dropped.

How is the Zero linked to the Cook Islands?

A Cook Islands Maritime official told nine.com.au the yacht named Zero was registered with their organisation by a Cook Island trust in July, 2013.

The tiny Cook Islands, located 5000km north-east of Sydney, have built a formidable global reputation shielding people from litigators, tax collectors and the eyes of law enforcement.

By Mark Saunokonoko, Nine.com.au, 18 September 2019

Read more at Nine.com.au

Photo: Christopher Johnson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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