Trust cleared in civil case over drug bust confiscations

A family trust dragged into a drug sting has had seized assets returned and will receive costs.

Invercargill's Payne Family Trust had a boat, outboard motor and boat trailer valued at $38,000 seized under the Proceeds of Crime (Recovery) Act when a police sting dubbed Operation Canary swung into action in late June.

About 30 police were involved in the bust of a cannabis growing ring, resulting in five men from Queenstown, Glenorchy, Northern Southland and Invercargill being arrested.

Three properties, one belonging to the trust, were restrained under the act in July, as well as $100,000 in cash, the boat and two vehicles valued at $45,000.

Invercargill man David Payne, who is one of three trustees of the Payne Family Trust, faced 12 criminal charges, 11 for cultivating cannabis and one for possessing cannabis with the purpose of selling or offering to sell it, in the direct aftermath of Operation Canary.

The first hearing of civil charges relating to property seized in the case was heard in the Invercargill High Court on November 19.

The Southland Times acquired a copy of Justice Simon France's judgment, which clears the family trust of any involvement in the case, and returned the seized boat to trust possession.

Justice France said the trust's involvement was now at an end and he ruled costs should be awarded to the trust by police, plus "reasonable disembursment" to be calculated by court registrars, if police objected to paying costs.

The trust released a statement saying they expected such a ruling, but were nevertheless relieved by the court's decision.

"The return of property and the order of costs against the police by Justice France has clearly vindicated our position," the statement said.

"This follows on from the return of David's car in July, which also had been seized. The police, after lengthy investigations, have provided no evidence to substantiate their claims that property was acquired from illegal activities."

Police were "provided numerous opportunities" to withdraw from court proceedings, but chose not to, costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, the trust's statement said.

"For the police to then pursue this matter begs a few questions. We suggest the Government together with the general public have a good hard look at these actions especially in light of other significant decisions made against police by the court recently."

The Southland Times