A ‘stereotypical’ high-roller: The short luxury life of the drug kingpin

Sami Zagros was 32 and living a glitzy life of designer clothes, expensive jewelry and fancy cars. A safe at his home was filled with nearly $170,000. Not bad for someone who had just been released from prison. But in eight months, everything collapsed. Reports by MARINE LOURENS.

A police investigator described him as the stereotypical image of a high-flying drug dealer.

Sami Zagros, 32, was flashy – always dressed in designer clothes, wearing expensive jewelry, driving fancy cars, spending big bucks in nightclubs and with a beautiful woman by his side.

Not exactly the picture of a delinquent recently released from prison and trying to get back on his feet.

What many did not know was that Zagros was none other than Saman Ahmad Khan Bigy, the Iranian travel agent convicted of six drug charges in Auckland in 2015 and sentenced to four years and six months of imprisonment.

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the New Zealand Herald reported in 2015 that Bigy was linked to an Auckland travel agency and its neighboring international money transfer service which was investigated for allegations of denied airfare and money transfers. incomplete international money totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Upon his parole on January 23, 2018, Bigy apparently had no intention of staying on the straight and narrow. He changed his name to Sami Zagros, saw an opportunity for meth and MDMA trafficking in Christchurch, and left Auckland to continue his drug dealing business.

Police sewage tests showed an increase in MDMA around the same time Zagros moved to Christchurch – and a telling decrease after his arrest.

By May of that year, Customs investigators had identified Zagros as being involved in the importation and distribution of methamphetamine and the distribution of MDMA in Christchurch.

Zagros lived a life of luxury – dressing in designer clothes, driving fancy cars, and spending large sums of money in nightclubs.

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Zagros lived a life of luxury – dressing in designer clothes, driving fancy cars, and spending large sums of money in nightclubs.

With police support, a joint operation was launched to investigate Zagros and his associates.

Drug traffic

The operation was not particularly sophisticated. Zagros would arrange for the drugs to enter New Zealand and be packaged in such a way as to conceal the true contents from the authorities.

The packages came mainly from Mexico and the United States and were declared to contain different items – one package was said to contain adapter and fan samples, another a music stereo system and yet another African clothing.

Not all packages arrived in New Zealand. One of them was arrested in Hong Kong and contained 412 grams of methamphetamine. Another was intercepted in Brazil about two weeks later. In September 2018, a package was intercepted by US Customs and found to contain 1 kilogram of methamphetamine.

The packages were addressed to various locations in Christchurch, including vacant properties, houses occupied by union members or neighboring properties, and the names on the boxes were fictitious.

Zagros used associates to limit his own risk of being caught. One was Preston Lewis Radford.

Packages containing methamphetamine arrived in New Zealand from Mexico and the United States and were destined for various addresses around Christchurch.  (File photo)

Dave Lintott

Packages containing methamphetamine arrived in New Zealand from Mexico and the United States and were destined for various addresses around Christchurch. (File photo)

Zagros would ask Radford to pick up the packages and deliver cash and drugs between Christchurch and Auckland.

Despite the drug money pouring in, Zagros paid Radford small amounts of money for his help. The summary of facts describes the payment as “disproportionate to the quantity of drugs and the level of risk involved”.

Zagros had multiple cell phones and used encrypted apps such as Wickr to conceal his communication with others.

He installed a jamming device at his home to prevent his calls from being tapped by investigators. It did not work.

Senior Detective Sergeant Paul Wilson would later tell a court that he spent more than 720 hours analyzing 3,145 intercepted calls and text messages between Zagros and his associates. “I learned their daily routines and the sound of their voices,” he said.

THREE

Patrick Gower investigates the meth epidemic in New Zealand in Patrick Gower: On P. (Video first posted May 2021)

In intercepted phone calls between Zagros and Radford, Zagros was reasonably cautious about what he said, but Radford was more loose. During a call, he talked about a money counting machine and how moisture on bills can weigh them down. A stack of 50s and 20s was a bit depleted, he said.

On another call, Zagros told Radford about “depositing the money and stuff” in Auckland.

The fall

Zagros’ lavish lifestyle came to an abrupt end when he was arrested on September 4, 2018, just as he emerged from a hotel sauna in central Christchurch.

His associates, Radford and Cherie Ann Akehurst, were also nabbed.

When authorities searched Zagros’ home, they found five fake guns — two in a safe in his office, one in his bedroom drawers, one at the headboard and one under his mattress. A stun gun was found in the driver’s door of his Mercedes.

Other luxury vehicles and $169,800 in cash found in his safe were telling evidence that business was good for Zagros.

Cash totaling $169,800 was found in a safe at Zagros' home when investigators searched the property.

CHRIS SKELTON / Stuff

Cash totaling $169,800 was found in a safe at Zagros’ home when investigators searched the property.

Shortly before his arrest, Zagros gave Aaron Langley $100,000 to invest in Bitcoin. But the Bitcoin market is volatile. Within 10 days, the investment had lost $35,000.

Zagros was not happy. He told Langley he was incompetent and threatened him if he didn’t pay back the $35,000. He told her that he had already “kneeled” someone for just $5,000.

Langley feared for his life and took out a $30,000 loan to pay off Zagros.

In a storage unit linked to Zagros, customs officials found 13,900 MDMA tablets. The pills matched 21 ecstasy pills found at Zagros’ home.

Messages on Zagros’ phone showed that he tried to buy another $80,000 worth of MDMA.

Pursuing Radford and Akehurst didn’t take long.

In December 2019 Radford, then 46, pleaded guilty to 21 counts and was subsequently jailed for six years and eight months.

Cherie Anne Akehurst was sentenced to 11 months house arrest for her role in the drug trafficking ring.

ALDEN WILLIAMS / Stuff

Cherie Anne Akehurst was sentenced to 11 months house arrest for her role in the drug trafficking ring.

Akehurst, then 53, who authorized the delivery of methamphetamine to her home, was sentenced to 11 months of house arrest in July 2020. A judge said her involvement was clearly the result of naivety or exploitation, and that she had little knowledge of the true extent of the ongoing drug imports.

But pursuing Zagros took much longer.

In October 2020, Zagros was tried in Christchurch High Court on 20 counts. He pleaded not guilty.

But the second day of the trial brought a surprising development. Zagros pleaded guilty to two counts of importing methamphetamine, three counts of attempting to import methamphetamine, common assault, money laundering and breach of computer search.

Following the guilty pleas, the Crown indicated that it would offer no evidence on three of the charges, and they were dismissed.

Zagros maintained his pleas of not guilty to the remaining nine counts. These included seven counts of importing methamphetamine, one of attempting to import methamphetamine and one of possession of MDMA for the purpose of supply.

The jury trial was dropped and a new trial date set for 2022.

Zagros is none other than Saman Ahmad Khan Bigy, the Iranian travel agent convicted of six drug charges in Auckland in 2015.

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Zagros is none other than Saman Ahmad Khan Bigy, the Iranian travel agent convicted of six drug charges in Auckland in 2015.

That trial began in March, but hasn’t progressed much further than the first.

After two days of testimony from Crown witnesses, the trial came to an abrupt halt when Zagros’ lawyers, Pip Hall QC and Ethan Huda, asked the court for permission to step down as his counsel.

When Zagros returned to court on Friday, he had a new lawyer but was no longer on his way to trial.

Defense attorney Anselm Williams has indicated that his client is ready to plead.

Upon reading the charges, Zagros, who appeared in court via large-screen video link, replied, “Guilty, guilty, guilty.”

He pleaded guilty to six counts of importing methamphetamine and one count of possessing MDMA for the purpose of supplying.

As not all packages had been intercepted, it was unclear how much methamphetamine Zagros had managed to smuggle into New Zealand. His guilty pleas were based on his acceptance that he had imported or attempted to import approximately 8 kg of drugs.

Following guilty pleas, Crown prosecutor Sean Mallet agreed that the other two charges could be dismissed.

Three years and eight months after his arrest, Zagros’ fate was sealed. His luxurious life of money, cars and clubs was over.

Zagros will be sentenced on July 6.

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