Regions reporting triple whammy of meth, guns, organised crime: police association
Police districts are so busy dealing with other incidents they are losing the fight against 'P' dealers, the police union says.
Record seizures of methamphetamine and cocaine in recent months, and the Government's renewed probe into illegal firearm use law thrust gangs and guns back into the spotlight.
The New Zealand Police Association has said meth is now a common factor in gun-related offending and the union's president says the country's 12 police districts lack resources to effectively combat organised crime.
And, according to a new financial intelligence report, the vast majority of the millions of dollars in frozen assets held by police relate to methamphetamine dealing.
The union says its members are increasingly reporting more organised crime and a lack of resources at district level.
Police Association of New Zealand president Greg O'Connor said he spent the past few weeks travelling around the country's 12 police districts talking to members.
"The comments coming through are meth, organised crime and firearms.
"It's all about gangs, firearms and meth. Every P dealer has got a firearm to protect themselves against other criminals".
Efforts to combat methamphetamine, chiefly the top-level and all agency Government led action plan formulated in 2009, had failed, O'Connor said.
"Organised crime and 'P' go hand in hand. With organised crime policing, most of the districts are so busy trying to keep up with domestic violence, child assaults, assaults, particularly in the provinces there's very little left over. Many districts have not put any emphasis on P. There's not a lot of pro active policing going on at dealer level.
"Anybody who says we are winning or the strategy has worked is not speaking to the same people I'm speaking to," he said.
New Zealand needed a revamped strategy and some brave decisions to tackle meth and organised crime, O'Connor said.
According to a recent financial intelligence report, police held restraining orders in March to the value of $270 million in assets overall.
Restraining orders relate to the freezing of assets while an investigation is conducted.
"Since [criminal proceeds recovery laws] came into effect, an estimated $85 million of assets have been subject to forfeiture orders. For the quarterly period ending March, $7.3m of assets were restrained and $9.2m were forfeited.
"The majority of restrained assets related to cases where methamphetamine dealing was the [underlying] offence."
A common theme in anti-laundering and asset recovery was the mixing of ill-gotten gains with legitimate income, known as "co-mingling", and this was more common in businesses using cash, the report said.
Frequent abuse of stored value cards, known as "present cards", was also evident because cards are easily bought, transferred and topped up.
Laundering using false identities was popular but there was evidence criminals found it more difficult to introduce illicit funds since anti-money laundering legislation was introduced.
"It is evident that 'cash is still king'.
"Criminals often try to hide their assets in third party names or nominees. Lastly, we are seeing an emergence of high-value, portable commodities, in particular bullion and jewellery".
The main underlying offences for money laundering in New Zealand are drugs, fraud and tax evasion.
"The [police] estimates that $1.35 billion of domestic proceeds is laundered in New Zealand per annum. The harm caused by the money laundering and the offending it facilitates is many times this figure, which belies the scale of human suffering caused by financially motivated crime".
Intelligence units receive thousands of reports - known as 'STRs' or "suspicious transaction reports" - annually from banks, financial institutions, the Inland Revenue Department, the Ministry of Social Development, Customs and police.
Tax evasion, drug dealing and creating dodgy shell companies are used as criminal networks seek to exploit New Zealand, the report says.
Under a new amendment, which comes into effect in mid-2017, all international wire transfers of $1000 or more and all physical domestic transactions of $10,000 or more must be reported.
We asked police for details of the national budget to combat methamphetamine and organised crime, whether the budget was sufficient and whether police districts lacked resources to fight organised crime.
Police did not respond directly to the union claims.
In a statement, police national manager organised crime Detective Superintendent Virginia Le Bas said police and other agencies were making considerably larger seizures each year. She said the national organised crime group targeted the higher end of offending and worked with district squads to disrupt and dismantle crime groups.
There was also a plan to refresh the all-agency methamphetamine action plan, she said.
"This year has seen record-breaking seizures of the precursor ephedrine, a single seizure of approximately 200kg, and methamphetamine, a single seizure of 494kg.
"Police are generally detecting fewer clan labs, but some clan labs detected have been able to make larger than usual amounts of methamphetamine. Police, Customs and our international network have made significant inroads in the interception of drug importations recently," the statement said.