Head Hunters leader at centre of police operation
One of New Zealand's most notorious gang leaders is understood to be the target of a major police operation that seized $6 million worth of properties.
Police on Monday raided a number of Head Hunters houses after seizing the properties, which they said were associated with a 62-year-old beneficiary who was a "senior member" of the gang.
That person is understood to be convicted murderer Wayne Doyle, east chapter president of the Head Hunters. Doyle was convicted for his part in the 1985 murder of a King Cobra gang member on a Ponsonby street.
The civil investigation, dubbed Operation Coin, was a joint effort between police, the Serious Fraud Office, Customs, the Ministry of Social Development and Inland Revenue.
Police said they had seized five properties valued at about $6 million which were controlled by the man, who they declined to identify.
Doyle told Stuff on Monday morning that he was speaking with police.
"I'm actually quite busy at the moment, as you can imagine."
He said he had not been fully informed of the reason for the raid.
"I don't know anything, I'm just stuck here with police, and they haven't given me all the information as of yet." He declined to comment further.
Detective Superintendent Iain Chapman said a "significant amount" of work had gone into the operation.
"Police are committed to ensuring that people can not accrue wealth and assets as a result of criminal behaviour, at the expense of the safety of our community.
"Police are seeking any information from the public or professional bodies who are engaged in the financial affairs of the Head Hunters gang."
Officers were at the gang's clubrooms in Marua Rd, Ellerslie, on Monday morning.
Police have refused to name the person or people they're targeting in the investigation.
Gang expert Jarrod Gilbert said changes to civil law had enabled police to seize assets without proof of a criminal act.
"They [police] seize the assets, and then it's up to the people who owned those assets to prove they were obtained legally," Gilbert said.
The relatively new development gave police much greater scope to crack down on gangs, he said.
"It throws out 'innocent until proven guilty' to a degree, so it could mean that police go on fishing expeditions. We'll just have to wait and see how it plays out."
Neighbours of the clubrooms were surprised by the raid.
One business owner, who did not want to be named, said the gang members were good neighbours.
"So far, so good as neighbours, they're not trouble."
Chapman said no arrests or charges were expected from the raid.
Police were using the Civil Recovery Act to crack down on the gang member instead, he said.
The civil action was "about two years" in the making.
A range of alleged criminal offending, including money laundering and drug dealing, had been linked to the property seizures, Chapman said.
Earlier, a government-appointed Official Assignee was seen entering the Ellerslie headquarters. Assignees manage seized properties while the civil forfeiture process is resolved.
Members of Fight Club 88, a mixed martial arts gym that operates at the headquarters, would still be able to use the facility as it would remain open, Chapman said.
"We'll continue a search today until we're satisfied we've removed everything of interest."
Chapman, who is based in Wellington, and police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers travelled to Auckland to support the team leading Monday's raids.
"The actions here today are a big step towards showing New Zealand we're doing our best, that we're not prepared to accept profiting from crime."
The Head Hunters is a motorcycle gang set up in Auckland in the 1960s, and is often associated with the production and sale of methamphetamine.
The gang has made headlines in recent years after large-scale police drug busts.
The Ellerslie property is owned by East 88 Property Holdings, a company that is owned by Head Hunters members, and directed by Doyle.
It is also the location of Fight Club 88, a mixed martial arts gym frequented by Head Hunters members.