Financial Secretary Office News

Financial Secretary Office News

Customs cracks down on tobacco smuggling

Customs is warning travellers against carrying undeclared tobacco on behalf of others, after a series of search warrants were executed in Auckland today, and a mother and her adult son arrested.

New Zealand Customs Service commenced an investigation earlier this year, with the Cook Islands Customs Service (CICS) and the Cook Islands Financial Intelligence Unit (CIFIU), to target and dismantle a criminal syndicate involved in smuggling large quantities of tobacco and cigarettes from the Cook Islands to New Zealand, and suspected money laundering associated with the smuggling.

Investigations identified a family-based criminal enterprise was operating out of Auckland, and manipulating travellers to illegally bring tobacco into New Zealand. These travellers subsequently faced a range of penalties, including the tobacco being seized and instant fines.

Customs believes the offending has spanned at least 18 months, and involved 79.6 kgs of intercepted tobacco and $113,422 in evaded duties & GST.

A 34-year-old New Zealand male, believed to be the syndicate’s organiser, was arrested at Auckland Airport on Tuesday (12 November) when returning from Rarotonga.

Customs investigators, with the assistance of NZ Police, executed search warrants at residences this morning, leading to the arrest of a 52-year-old New Zealand female. Several stolen vehicles were recovered during the search, and small amounts of cannabis, MDMA, and cocaine were seized.

Customs Investigations Manager Bruce Berry says the investigation and arrests should serve as a warning to both criminal syndicates and travellers that Customs actively targets tobacco smugglers.

“Criminals or opportunists may assume Customs isn’t concerned about travellers who try to smuggle undeclared tobacco, but that’s not true – we have a team that specifically targets the organisers of cross-border revenue fraud. We urge travellers not to bring in undeclared tobacco for others.”

“It’s important to acknowledge the incredible work of the Cook Islands Customs Service and the Cook Islands Financial Intelligence Unit, who have been closely involved from the beginning, as well as the assistance of NZ Police that also contributed to the success of this operation,” says Mr Berry.

The CICS and CIFIU shared key intelligence that assisted with enquiries into the criminal syndicate. The two individuals arrested are believed to be linked to organised crime in Auckland.

Head of Cook Islands Financial Intelligence Unit (CIFIU) Phil Hunkin says this operation is an excellent example of agencies working together.

“New Zealand and Cook Islands law enforcement regularly meet and exchange information to combat national and transnational crimes. We will also continue to target the criminal finances to ensure that crime does not pay,” says Mr Hunkin.

Comptroller of the Cook Islands Customs Service (CICS) Xavier Mitchell confirmed that the CICS will continue to work closely with the New Zealand Customs Service, Cook Islands Financial Intelligence Unit and other agencies to combat both national and transnational crime. 

“This is a great result which highlights the benefits of working collaboratively and sharing intelligence". 

If you have suspicions about someone who is smuggling cigarettes, call +682 29365 and speak with the CICS Chief Customs Officer, or send and email to

13 November 2019

  Tobacco seized

  Images: Tobacco intercepted at Auckland Airport that were linked to the criminal syndicate

Public Release - Competition and Regulatory Authority Bill 2019 & Telecommunications Bill 2019

Market Competition Policy 2019 was released in May 2019. The draft policy sets out the Government’s plans to open up the Cook Islands telecommunications market to competition. The draft legislation that will give effect to the policy has now been released for public consultation. The Government is seeking industry and community feedback on the policy and legislation. The Government will also be holding two community meetings on this topic:

  • 6pm Wednesday 30th October 2019, Calvary Hall, Arorangi
  • 6pm Thursday 31st October, Titikaveka, Sunday School Hall. 

The draft legislation is available on MFEM’s website at or can be obtained by either contacting the MFEM Economic Planning Division on 29511 or via email at 

Submissions can be sent to MFEM by post at PO Box 120, Avarua; via e-mail at; or lodged in person at Level 1, MFEM Building, Avarua.

21 October 2019

Cook Islands Government Quarterly Financial Reports - June 2019

The Cook Islands Government (CIG) preliminary financial outcome for June 2019 quarter is now available.

Net Operating Balance and Fiscal Balance of General Government

June 2019 Quarter







Operating Revenue $185,152 $209,937 $24,785
Operating Expenditure $166,077 $154,283 $11,794
Net Operating Balance $19,075 $55,654 $36,579
Add Depreciation $11,978 $8,487 $3,491
Less Capital Expenditure -$47,530 -$36,318 -$11,212
Fiscal Balance -$16,477 $27,823 $44,300

The net operating balance for the period ended 30 June 2019 was a surplus of $55.65 million, which represents a $36.58 million higher compared to the surplus estimated for the quarter.

The favourable result was driven mainly by;

  1. Savings in overall operating expenditure of $11.79 million. The first three months of the financial year evidenced greater control of operating expenditure due to the delayed tabling of the Appropriation Bill as a result of the 2018 general election. Administered Payments and Ministry and Pa was the main contributor followed by Other Expenses Expenditures
  2. Crown Revenue collected was $24.78 million above Budget Estimates. Taxation Revenue and Fishing Licenses was the main contributor to the above budget estimates, due to end of the calendar year rush to purchase bilateral purse seine days. This was due to the high presence of Skip Jack Tuna in our EEZ in November and December.

Fiscal Balance

The overall fiscal balance for the reporting period was $27.82 million, after taking into account spending on Capital expenditure of $36.32 million and adding back depreciation funding of $8.49 million.

Compared to budget, spending on Capital projects were below estimates by $11.21 million. The variance was mainly due to timing of spending related to a number of projects especially projects administered by Cook Islands Investment Corporation.

Official Development Assistance (ODA)

Official Development Assistance was appropriated at the total value of $61.18 million in the 2018/19 Appropriation. This value includes the Core Sector Support Grant Funding Arrangement with New Zealand for Education, Health and Tourism.

The last quarter for the financial year 2018/19 reported a total spend of $27.32 million. The low spend for ODA in the first quarter of the financial year result in the delay of the appropriation bill being passed in parliament as well as the NZ triennium funding envelope not being confirmed due to ongoing negotiations on priorities and the design of the individual grant funding agreements.

Financial Position

Overall cash position at the end of the reporting period was $171.64 million. This includes $64.90 million of funds that are committed and set aside for specific purposes. This leaves $99.66 million of unencumbered cash reserve which Government can draw upon to fund future investments.

The CIG reported a gross debt of $94.88 million.This amount represents actual disbursed loans adjusted for debt service repayments. Other committed loans that have not being disbursed, like the Te Manatua Cable loan, are not included.

Net Debt was reported at $51.45 million at the end of the reporting period. Net debt adjusts the Gross Debt for the effect of the LRF held against those loans and the loans held on behalf of SOE’s.