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Stripper caught diving for coke in NZ – but it was in USA

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Diver and stripper Matthew Hodder has to remain in orison in New Zealand
Diver and stripper Matthew Hodder has to remain in orison in New Zealand
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An Australian scuba diver caught trying to find what he thought was smuggled cocaine in the hull of a container ship docked in New Zealand was imprisoned for 50 months earlier this year – and has just had his plea for parole turned down. 

Matthew Hodder, 33, had not realised that the narcotics he had come to retrieve had been picked up by US police divers long before, while the ship was still in Philadelphia, or that he and his accomplice had been under surveillance ever since arriving in New Zealand.

Hodder, from Melbourne, was sentenced to four years and two months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to import the class-A drug, for which the maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment. His Portuguese associate has yet to be sentenced.

Two duffel bags

In September 2022, Hodder had been paid NZ $50,000 (around £24,000) to retrieve two duffel bags containing 91kg of cocaine from the hull of the 254m Spirit of Auckland while it was docked in Port Chalmers near Dunedin, according to reports by Stuff

Diver caught: The Spirit of Auckland – a big ship to search (Jens Hilligsøe)
The Spirit of Auckland – a big ship to search (Jens Hilligsøe)

US police had informed New Zealand police after secretly removing the drugs the previous month, and the ship was already being watched when it reached Port Chalmers via Melbourne. Its crew were not suspected of knowing about the drug-smuggling attempt.

Hodder and his associate had flown from Australia to New Zealand and driven a rental vehicle to a hotel in Dunedin on 13 September. On 15 and 16 September they had gone out buying dive-gear at various shops, spending NZ $4,000 (£1,900) at one of them. 

The equipment had included a BC, wetsuit, torch, knives and dive-bags. The two men were unaware that their vehicle had been bugged so that police could listen to their conversations.

Back for breakfast

When Spirit of Auckland docked on 17 September the pair drove to Port Chalmers and took a small boat out so that Hodder could conduct what turned out to be a series of abortive dives on the hull. 

On their second day out they stopped diving after being challenged by officials, and were later heard requesting the “overseas-based importers” to send them a video showing exactly where the cocaine was supposed to be stashed. 

The men decided to return to Dunedin for breakfast before attempting to dive again but the police had heard enough, and arrested them at that point.

After the conviction an appeal for parole was made, the board hearing that Hodder had no previous criminal convictions in New Zealand or Australia, though he was wanted on multiple motoring charges.

He was said to have a drinking problem that had arisen following the collapse of his roofing business, and had been supporting himself by working as a stripper under the name Matty Thunder. 

His lawyer had argued that he should be returned to Australia to attend residential rehabilitation, but the parole board said he was already slated to undergo a six-month treatment programme while in prison in Christchurch, and rejected the request.

Also read: Rebreather diver dies near 50kg of cocaine, Cocaine found in Suffolk freshwater shrimps by scientists, Divers tried to smuggle rebreathers to Libya

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