Taking care of business - the fight against organised crime

  • Judith Collins

Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to join you today.

It is indeed a privilege to be addressing a group of men and women who are dedicated to promoting the security of New Zealanders, their families and their communities.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for doing what we all recognise is an incredibly difficult, but important job.

I am enormously proud to be the Police Minister, and believe our police to be among the finest in the world.

In New Zealand, as in many other countries, we have seen tough economic times lately.

This not only put society under more stress than usual, but has brought about the need for all government agencies to look at ways of doing things more efficiently.

It is a measure of the professionalism of our police that despite these pressures, you continue to deliver an outstanding service to New Zealanders.

In the year to 30 June, police resolved 11,649 more offences than they did in 2007/08. Police resolved 212,038 offences to increase the resolution rate from 47.0 to 47.9 percent.

It is essential to the smooth functioning of society that the public can be confident that when they dial 111 they can count on the assistance of a well resourced, well-trained and well-supported police service.

As Minister, I value your ongoing professionalism, your integrity and your commitment to a better and safer New Zealand.

I would like to focus today on one of the biggest law and order issues facing New Zealand. Indeed, it is the theme of this conference.

New Zealand has always had an underbelly - networks of criminals who have made a living from the proceeds of crime.

In the 1940s and 1950s we had the bookies. In the 1960s and 1970s it was cannabis. In the late 1970s and early 1980s it was heroin.

We have been fortunate that organised crime has not been deeply embedded in our culture and way of life.

The criminals who ran illegal enterprises often formed into small-time groups on the fringes of society.

The Mr Asia drug syndicate was the first to show the incredible profits that could be made from selling illegal narcotics.

The arrival of home-made methamphetamine a decade ago opened a new and incredibly lucrative market for those who were prepared to operate outside the law.

The millions to be made making and selling this fiercely addictive drug changed the face of gangs forever.

No longer do gangs exist solely to assert their identity, as a support group for the disenfranchised or a reflection of members' other common interests.

Today's gangs exist to make money and gain power.

There are several thousand patched gang members in New Zealand and many more associates.

While gangs were historically classified as outlaw motorcycle gangs or ethnic gangs, those distinctions are now blurred.

Police now simply refer to them as "New Zealand Adult Gangs."

Traditional gang structures and rivalries are often cast aside if it makes good business sense.

Often police see old enemies working side-by-side and sharing opportunity and expertise.

Gangs in New Zealand have even been known to put aside formerly irreconcilable differences in order to "take care of business".

There is increasing convergence between criminals and professionals involved in a blend of legitimate and illegitimate businesses.

Gangs have their own accountants, lawyers and even media advisers.

They partner with businesses in finance, transport, private security, entertainment, real estate and various trade related industries.

These partnerships help facilitate their real businesses - violence, extortion, drug dealing and money laundering.

This new level of sophistication, utilising complex business and legal structures, technology and legal and illegal business activities, is presenting a major challenge to law enforcement agencies such as the police and OFCANZ.

As gangs adopt a business ethos, they have gone to extraordinary lengths to appear to be good corporate citizens and legitimise their activities.

In Auckland, gangs hold organised kick boxing fight nights and classes for children, and after- ball functions for girls from private schools, building an acceptance of gang culture from an early age.

The Killer Beez owns the hip hop record label, Colourways. Its music videos are thinly disguised recruitment advertisements for the gang and are played on mainstream TV.

Gangs are increasingly attending public and community celebrations, projecting themselves as harmless groups with a strong community spirit.

They run lotteries and uniformed Police have been sent to oversee the draws.

They have their own Facebook pages and websites, where they invite people to sign up for news and updates.

They even offered to help in the aftermath of the recent Samoa tsunami. I'm pleased to say that their offer was declined.

Some have even internationally trademarked their patches, effectively becoming branded franchises.

But make no mistake; their brand values are violence, intimidation and misery. Their franchise is fear.

The main source of income for these gangs continues to be the manufacture and distribution of drugs, particularly methamphetamine.

In 2008, Police identified that 78 percent of clandestine laboratories were connected to organised criminal groups. Weapons were found in just over one third of the clandestine laboratories detected.

The New Zealand methamphetamine market is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars per annum at street level.

The gang subculture provides a degree of trust and confidence that allows gang members to utilise contacts to source precursors and distribute methamphetamine.

I don't need to tell any of you of the catastrophic effects the methamphetamine trade has had on our communities.

Gangs have infiltrated neighbourhoods, turning homes into meth labs and destroying the lives of scores of good people.

Gangs have infiltrated businesses; turning legitimate enterprises into money laundering outlets. 

Their money has bought them a veneer of legitimacy that is far more dangerous to our society than anything we have seen before.

This threatens our way of life and must be stopped.

The downstream effects of the meth trade - drug related property crime, identity theft, corruption and violence - reach deep into our communities.

Methamphetamine addicts report committing property crimes averaging $1840 a month and drug-dealing of $5100 a month to feed their habit. 

Last week the Prime Minister outlined a comprehensive strategy to rid the community of methamphetamine.

The planned changes include:

  • making pseudoephedrine a prescription only, Class B2 controlled drug
  • anti-crime initiatives
  • Ministry of Health funding into treatment for addiction
  • 40 dedicated Customs offers
  • and a review of the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966.

The strategy also recognises that if we want to deal with methamphetamine, we must deal to the gangs that make it and sell it.

We need to ensure that once we have made inroads into the methamphetamine market that these gangs are not able to simply focus on different crimes.

The message is clear, the time has come to put organised crime out of business.

In the past we have thought of this problem as crime driving the business. I believe we have to start thinking of it as the business driving the crime.

To reduce the criminal activity, we have to make the businesses less viable. We have to look at ways of preventing rivers of illegal money flowing into the bank accounts of organised crime.

We have to make sure they are held to account for how they generate their revenues.

There is a feeling that while the police are doing a great job in solving crime and catching criminals, the law has in some cases tied their hands behind their backs.

Politicians in the past have been concerned about infringing on gangs' human rights.

I know I speak for many of my colleagues when I say that we aren't too concerned about upholding the rights of killers, money launderers and drug dealers.

I believe that when they undermine communities, destroy the lives of children and cause people to live in fear, then they lose those rights.

During this term in government, we have introduced a raft of legislation that will enable police to hit gangs where it hurts, and bring peace and safety back to our neighbourhoods.

Perhaps the most powerful new tool in the police toolbox will be the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act.

For a long time, police have been saying that giving them the power to seize the assets and profits that gangs obtain illegally - including from the manufacture and supply of methamphetamine - will be a major step in dismantling organised crime.

This legislation will give them that power.

It will repeal the Proceeds of Crime Act 1991 and introduces a new civil forfeiture regime to complement an enhanced criminal forfeiture regime.

Until now, senior organised crime figures have been able to hold on to wealth they have accumulated by avoiding the conviction required before property can be forfeited.

Under this legislation, a conviction is not required to trigger forfeiture proceedings for criminal proceeds - it will be sufficient to prove on the balance of probabilities that a person has unlawfully benefited from criminal offending.

We're not just going to take away their profits.

We're going to use those profits against them.

Recovered proceeds of crime that are returned to the Crown will be used to fund anti-P initiatives. 

This will include additional Police and Customs initiatives to fight gangs and organised crime syndicates and an expansion of drug treatment service so fewer people will want to buy their products.

The message to gangs should be clear: this government is coming after your business and will use every tool we have to destroy it.

Hand in hand with the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act will be the Anti-money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Bill.

This will help New Zealand tackle financial and drug-related crime by detecting, tracing, and seizing profits of domestic organised crime groups.

It will be an essential component in New Zealand's ability to investigate organised crime, to follow the money trail through financial systems, and to enable Police to use the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act to attack those profits.

Criminal organisations in New Zealand don't act in isolation. They have networks that span the globe.

Our investigators need the tools and the inter-governmental support to trace and track them.

This Bill will set out regulatory changes to enable NZ to comply with the Financial Action Task Force - an inter-governmental body that sets international standards for combating money laundering and terrorist financing.

Businesses will be required to make more robust checks on customer identity and verification, and have better systems in place to identify and track suspicious activity.

Police tell me, "Everything these gangs do is about money and power."

If we take away the money, the gangs lose influence and have no reason to exist.

They'll wither and die, and good riddance to them.

We're tackling gangs on other fronts too.

Since becoming the government, we have introduced news laws that:

  • Target gangs by doubling penalties for being a member of a gang, and making it easier for police to intercept their communications.
  • Lowers the threshold for offences that can be used as the basis for warrants from those attracting 10 years in prison to those attracting 7 years or more.
  • Enables removal orders to be sought from a court to remove gang fortifications.
  • Introduces a police-only examination order power, where people believed to have information about offending can be made to answer questions.
  • Allows search scenes to be secured and people to be detained while searches are carried out, and allows police to stop and search vehicles.

While alcohol remains a primary focus for police, by volume it continues to be responsible for most of the drug related crime in New Zealand.

What is different about the methamphetamine trade is its potential to corrupt the system.

We are incredibly fortunate that our police service and justice system is one of the least corrupted, if not the least corrupted, in the world.

When police and officials choose to be on the payroll of criminals, the very foundation of our society is undermined. That is something we cannot allow to take root.

The steps to fight organised crime that I have outlined this afternoon will only be effective if our law enforcement continues to be above reproach.

In other countries, police, officials and politicians have succumbed to the temptation of the large amounts of money generated by gangs.

Selling out to criminals means betraying the communities they are charged with serving and protecting.

It means aiding in the flow of deadly drugs to our children, and helping criminals grow rich on the destruction of families.

The fight against organised crime will bring pressures that will challenge you all. But for the sake of the community, you must uphold the values you are sworn to protect.

The scourge of the gangs and methamphetamine has spread far enough and must be stopped. I have absolute faith that you will prevail.

Thank you, again for the opportunity to join you today, and thank you for putting yourselves on the line every day to make New Zealand a better and safer place for us all.

I wish you the very best for the rest of your conference.

Thank you.