Taking the fight to the top
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Detective Superintendent Greg Williams, above, oversees the National Organised Crime Group at PNHQ.
The NOCG targets the top tier of organised crime and already has a proven track record since morphing from OFCANZ (Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand) into the NOCG in April 2017, bringing all its work back under the Police umbrella.
Exact details of how the 700 extra staff will be deployed are yet to be finalised, but they will be spread among district organised crime teams, support resources and the NOCG.
Working with local and international partners, the NOCG team has already prosecuted key people driving the drug trade in New Zealand.
Late last month, in an operation led by Northland District and supported by NOCG, 22 people, ranging in age from 18 to 57, several of whom were patched gang members or associates, were arrested in Northland and charged with a range of offences involving sale and supply of methamphetamine.
In the past year the NOCG has “disrupted” 17 transnational organised crime groups in New Zealand, “restrained” between $14 million and $18 million in assets and charged 127 people with a range of offences linked to organised crime, meth, cocaine, cannabis and money laundering.
It sounds impressive, and it is, but it’s only the tip of a meth-laden iceberg.
To get an idea of the extent of the problem, Greg refers to an unusual but reliable source of information – our waste water system.
“Waste water analysis in Christchurch has shown 87 grams of meth being consumed in the city each day for the past year. Meth costs $500 to $600 per gram, so that equates to about $50,000 a day going into the pockets of organised crime in Canterbury.”
That works out to $350,000 a week and more than $19 million a year in Christchurch.
Police is hoping to access waste water analysis from across the country later this year, so get ready to hear some more eye-wateringly large dollar amounts being channelled, tax free, into the pockets of criminals.
“We know the problem and we know the solution – it’s not rocket science – but effecting that involves using intelligence to direct resources to the right places,” Greg says.
The NOCG has 125 staff. There are 97 constables and 28 Police employees working in nine task forces – six in Auckland, one in Tauranga and two in Wellington.
Imagine what they might be able to achieve with more eyes, ears and feet on the ground, because there is so much ground to cover and a lot of dots to join up.
However, as Greg says: “We cannot do this alone. We have to make the environment in which organised crime is operating in New Zealand as harsh as we can.”
And that means working with the public and private sectors and communities to disrupt activity.
The money involved, and the scale of the market being created and exploited by what are essentially gang franchises, is huge, because, as it turns out, New Zealand is not only an appealing tourist destination, it’s also a desirable place to do drug business.
“The product is imported into an already established market and the profits are moved back offshore,” says Greg. The tendrils extend to China, Hong Kong, Korea, Eastern Europe, the United States and South America.
“New Zealand is seen by these groups as a great place to do business because of what people are prepared to pay for the product. It’s cheap to ship it in, by whatever means – smuggling by people or as cargo – and once the product is here, the gang networks are all set up ready to retail it.”
He points to an alleged Mongrel Mob operation in Kawerau where up to $2.6 million worth of meth was dealt into that relatively small community.
“It’s in those communities that the social harm caused by organised crime is most obvious,” he says. “It manifests in poor social wellbeing, health issues, lower education outcomes, increased unemployment and criminal activity leading to imprisonment.
“The real tragedy is the ongoing intergenerational impact on our children. That’s why the identification, investigation and dismantling of that top end is so important.”
There are several ways of achieving that. People manufacturing meth need chemicals, glassware and precursors, so police target those supply chains to break them. Another significant strategy is disrupting the movement of illicit cash.
A great deal of the drug cash piled up in back rooms ends up on a money laundering highway, with many pit stops along the way – accountants, lawyers, money remitters and other international networks that move money internationally for organised crime groups.
Many millions of dollars are remitted out of New Zealand every year.
“Any organised crime group is simply a criminal business activity that has to operate in a certain way to function,” says Greg. “By understanding how they function and what services they need, we can focus our collective agency resources to disrupt those activities.”
Until recently, Asian organised crime groups based in Auckland were the conduit for meth and precursors coming into the country, but that has changed significantly in the past three years with the arrival of criminal deportees from Australia and other transnational groups targeting New Zealand.
Because of changes in Australia’s migration policy, New Zealand now has new chapters of outlaw motorcycle gangs energised by the entrepreneurial opportunities of fresh markets into which they can inject their international connections and “trade craft”.
Police are working to identify those people and organisations. It’s part of a more holistic and intelligent approach to organised crime, moving from reactive policing to understanding the entire environment and then being able to disrupt it.
“In a very simple way,” Greg says, “one focus is on people importing and wholesaling illicit drugs into New Zealand and distribution across the country, while at the district level they are dealing with retail outlets.”
At the back end of the NOCG’s work are other areas that also require resourcing – cyber crime, the Electronic Crime Labs, crime monitoring centres, surveillance teams and covert human sources.
The overarching focus for the extra staff will be investment in a few key areas. Across agencies, the focus is on:
• Importation and manufacture of illicit drugs
• Organised crime engaged in illegal business activities
• Transnational organised crime targeting New Zealand
• Modern-day slavery and people trafficking
• Corruption and bribery
• Financial facilitators
• Illicit drug distribution networks
Worldwide, Greg says, organised crime is able to flourish in countries where there is collusion with the state and corruption and bribery are rife. “That is not the case here. In fact, we have exceptional government agencies working to suppress organised crime and to protect our way of life.”
The group also works with internal partners on support projects in regions such as Northland and Bay of Plenty that are aimed at reducing the market for methamphetamine by getting users into treatments centres. “That is also part of disrupting the market while at the same time reducing harm in the community,” Greg says.
“Each time we identify a part of a network, then uncouple it from that network, we are taking out people who are prepared to run these high-end operations and they are then spending 18 to 25 years in jail.
“We have disrupted entire networks, which is very pleasing to our team.”
Greg describes it as the “concertina effect”, which works this way:
• NOCG, supported by our partner agencies, focuses on the top echelon who source, import and manufacture and distribute the drugs and drive other forms of organised crime.
• Districts focus on disrupting the retail aspect being driven by gangs and other organised crime groups.
• NOCG, districts and partner agencies, and private sector partners, including iwi, work together to reduce the social harm.
• International partners help disrupt supply chains offshore.
• Police, partner agencies and private sector partners disrupt the money being generated by organised crime and drive the restraint of assets.
- ELLEN BROOK