King Cobras gang in Wellington - police

Auckland gang the King Cobras are setting up shop in Wellington, police say, stockpiling weapons and drugs in a bid to challenge the region's more established gangs.

A police raid on a rented townhouse in Miramar recently resulted in the seizure of six guns, a stun gun and a considerable cache of ammunition, plus ecstasy, LSD and cannabis with a total street value of more than $320,000.

One of the two people arrested and charged with gun and drugs offences is believed by police to be a King Cobra ringleader, responsible for setting up the gang's Wellington chapter.

Gangsters wearing King Cobra insignia have begun appearing in Wellington and the Hutt Valley, Detective Senior Sergeant Scott Cooper said.

"There's a few of them out in the Hutt, people wearing the King Cobras' regalia. Like any gang that wears the regalia quite openly, they're [throwing] the intimidation factor out there. Obviously there's some sinister motives in it."

New Zealand's oldest gang, the King Cobras were formed by Samoan migrants in Ponsonby, Auckland, in the 1950s. Historically an exclusively Auckland gang, they retain a primarily Polynesian membership.

University lecturer Jarrod Gilbert, an expert witness in gang-related trials, said the gang had a "staunch" reputation.

Their arrival in Wellington could potentially lead to turf wars between rival gangs, he said.

"The danger of expansion is it often leads to territorial warfare. Existing gangs that have fought for their territory don't like to give it up. That's something the police are obviously very mindful of.

"There were wars in the 1970s and 80s because people were trying to gain territory. Those stopped ... but now with new territorial desires the prospect of those wars continuing may be possible - one may even say likely."

The police say members of a former Hutt Valley gang, RSB (Respect Samoan Bloods), have been recruited into the King Cobras. As such, they already have a ready-made presence in Naenae and Pomare.

"They certainly have a structure and a hierarchy, and probably some rules. They're spread all over the place ... there's a mixture in Wellington and the Hutt," Mr Cooper said.

Police were monitoring the gang's movements and had visited several members' houses, he said.

"The King Cobras are not welcome in the Wellington district. We'll be actively targeting them, as we would any other criminal element. We want the community to feel safe."

It is the second recent expansion into Wellington for an Auckland gang. In September last year, the Head Hunters motorcycle gang set up a cage-fighting base in Upper Hutt.

Several people were injured in gang clashes in the area as the Head Hunters battled with rival gangs for territory.

The gang appeared to move out of their warehouse base in January but are thought to retain a presence in the Hutt Valley.

WHO ARE THE KING COBRAS?

New Zealand's oldest gang, formed by Samoan migrants in Ponsonby in the 1950s. They retain primarily Polynesian membership, and are what police term an "ethnic gang".

In January this year, a King Cobra member in Auckland was charged with the murder of 29-year-old Daniel Fifita Turner in West Auckland, who died after being shot in the chest. A second man, who tried to drag Turner into a car, was also shot in the leg.

In September, four King Cobra members and associates were jailed for kidnapping and assaulting two Auckland men after a business arrangement turned sour.

Joe Tie, Robert Logo, Ross Romana and Ofisa Kopelani were sentenced on multiple charges, including kidnapping, blackmail and wounding with intent.

In 2003, three King Cobra members stabbed to death 15-year-old Michael Heremaia at a King Cobra tinnie house in Mangere.

James Michael Leuluaiali'i, Ofisa Andrew Kopelani and Benjamin Red Tumahai received life sentences for stabbing and cutting their 15-year-old gang mate 37 times. They had disagreed with the way the tinnie house was being run.

Gang leaders have also managed to run drug rings from inside prison. In 2011, King Cobra gang leader Ulaiasi "Rocky" Pulete, already serving a 14-year sentence at Paremoremo, was convicted of conspiracy to supply methamphetamine.

The Dominion Post