Emphysema takes out violent enforcer

ENFORCER: A file photo of Peter Fulcher, an enforcer in the Mr Asia drug gang, who has died in Whanganui aged 72.
ENFORCER: A file photo of Peter Fulcher, an enforcer in the Mr Asia drug gang, who has died in Whanganui aged 72.

There was nothing endearing about Peter Fulcher. As principal enforcer for the Mr Asia drug gang, he was brutally violent and part of a conspiracy exploiting and ruining thousands of lives.

He betrayed his fellow criminals, or as the prime minister at the time, David Lange, deftly put it: "coughed his lungs out". It was prophetic; emphysema claimed Fulcher's life in Whanganui on July 18. He was 72 and had spent 28 of those years locked up.

He began his life of crime at age 14, ending up in the Owairaka Boys Home. He simply honed the criminal skills needed for the rest of his life. He also took revenge on some of the borstal staff, trapping them outside of the institution and beating them up.

He went into safe-cracking and got caught trying to steal the payroll from the Ministry of Works; four years jail. There he met men involved in cannabis and heroin - and decided it was for him.

He became infamous for his role in the Mr Asia gang, a multi- national New Zealand grown heroin drug ring. He began with Marty Johnstone - the original "Mr Asia" - and Andy Maher when they were introduced to a Singaporean sailor known as "Chinese Jack" in 1973.

With a group of investors they bought a yacht, Brigadoon, and 450,000 cannabis "buddha sticks" in Thailand. Despite a disastrous trip back to New Zealand that included some of the crew being arrested for shoplifting in Noumea, they made it home, months late.

Others saw the potential including "Diamond" Jim Shepherd and one Terry Clark. With a switch to heroin the much bigger group moved on to Australia.

Fulcher claimed he never killed anyone. It would be fairer to say he was never convicted for murder, but armed with a baseball bat he dished out Mr Asia justice. He was the New Zealand agent for the gang, selling the heroin and then calling up the debts owed.

"I have dished out a bit of extreme violence. But by Jesus, it was well deserved," he told the Listener in his last interview, a year ago.

According to Auckland Star reporter Pat Booth's book Mr Asia File, by 1978 the heroin import bill for Auckland alone was more than $34 million.

Fulcher told the Listener he did not think much of the Mr Asia gang.

"They were a bunch of clowns, getting together and taking advantage of the riff-raff of society."

After the collapse of the syndicate at the end of the 1970s, Fulcher was reported to be trying to set himself up as the new Mr Asia in Australia, when he was arrested in possession of heroin.

He was sentenced to 18 years hard labour for heroin trafficking; however, he was freed after only four years, amid speculation he had done a deal with a royal commission into the drug trade. That triggered controversy and a row with New Zealand authorities, who had issued fresh warrants for his arrest relating to an Auckland bank robbery - warrants which the Australian prison officials denied knowledge of.

Fulcher was re-arrested in Sydney less than a month later, eventually extradited to New Zealand, and sentenced to 14 years on fresh heroin importation charges.

Once freed he was done for cultivating cannabis.

In 2006, while facing new drugs charges, he admitted stealing a dead child's identity to obtain a passport, but avoided further jail time. The judge said sentencing Fulcher to supervision by the Probation Service was pointless because he had been in the system longer than most probation officers. And Fulcher himself told the judge his health was "pretty bad. I've hit my use-by date."

Fulcher spent most of the millions he made, often on sex with young women.

It was his violence that kept him in the headlines.

His own acquaintances from the Mr Asia years described him as ruthless, uncontrollable and unpredictable.

Although Fulcher disclosed a good deal in the Listener, he kept much back as well.

He told the Listener that if he could have lived life again, it would be entirely different, but then he had rules - he never gave evidence to policemen.

Fairfax Media