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Comanchero raid: Lawyer arrested, $4m assets seized

Author
Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald ,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Thursday, 11 April 2019, 4:22p.m.
A gold-plated Harley Davidson was among the $3.7m worth of assets seized in Operation Nova. (Photo / Supplied)

Police say they targeted a lawyer and an accountant in raids on the Comancheros and allege they helped the gang launder their money.

Up to 80 police seized nearly $4 million in assets in raids on the Australian-based gang in Auckland this morning.

Police have charged a lawyer who they accuse of helping the gang launder their money. It is understood the accountant has not been charged.

Iain Chapman, the Detective Superintendent in charge of the Financial Crime Group, sent a warning to people in those professions.

He said he wanted to make it clear that people who assisted criminal gangs in their illegal activity could expect a full, robust response from police.

A gold-plated Harley Davidson was among the $3.7m worth of assets seized in Operation Nova. Photo / Supplied.

A gold-plated Harley Davidson was among the $3.7m worth of assets seized in Operation Nova. Photo / Supplied.

Five people were appearing in court today on charges of money-laundering and conspiracy to import methamphetamine and conspiracy to import precursor drugs which could be used to make methamphetamine.

When Australia started sending people "home" to New Zealand a few years ago, experienced police officers were quick to recognise the threat.

Among the "501" deportees - so nicknamed because of the "character grounds" section of the immigration law used to remove them from Australia - were hundreds of members of established motorcycle clubs which did not have chapters in New Zealand.

Finks, Lone Wolf, Mongols, Notorious, Descendants - and the Comanchero gang.

While New Zealand already had a thriving gang scene, police saw the Australian interlopers as having the potential to radically change the criminal underworld.

Some of these guys are next-level crooks. Ruthless," one source said.

It wasn't long until the Comanchero announced their arrival, as first revealed by the Herald on Sunday last year.

Wearing the black and gold colours, six members gathered around gold-plated motorcycles in a series of photographs posted on social media.

"All done and sworn in ... welcome aboard to my brothers in New Zealand," says the Instagram post by an Australian member of the Comancheros.

"Another Comanchero chapter opened up. We growing stronger and stronger."

One of several late model Range Rovers seized in Operation Nova. Photo / Supplied.

One of several late model Range Rovers seized in Operation Nova. Photo / Supplied.

The display was a powerful statement - to the police and other gangs in New Zealand - which came a week after the ex-president of the Comancheros, Mahmoud "Mick" Hawi, was fatally gunned down in a Sydney gym carpark.

Hawi had cheated death before, surviving a hail of bullets in 2007, and the brazen daylight shooting was rumoured to be a revenge hit.

A decade ago, Hawi was convicted of the manslaughter of a rival Hells Angel in a brawl inside the Sydney airport which lit the fuse on the city's infamous bikie wars marred by drive-by shootings and fire bombings.

One of Hawi's fellow Comanchero convicted of the same notorious manslaughter is now living in Whakatane - one of the "501" deportees.

The Rolls Royce Wraith seized by police in Operation Nova. Photo / Supplied.

The Rolls Royce Wraith seized by police in Operation Nova. Photo / Supplied.

Perhaps the club is most infamous for the 1984 "Milperra Massacre" in which seven people were killed - including an innocent 14-year-old girl - and 28 injured during a 10-minute shootout with the rival Bandidos gang in a Sydney turf war.

It's the predilection of Australian gangs to use firearms in turf wars against one another, in public where innocent witnesses could be hurt, which had police officers in New Zealand worried.

A New Zealand branch was "inevitable" following the deportation of 14 Comancheros, Detective Superintendent Greg Williams, the head of the National Organised Crime Group, told the Herald on Sunday at the time.

"It's concerning. Like the other Australian gangs, the Rebels and the Bandidos, we expect the Comancheros will attempt to establish themselves in the drug market within New Zealand," Williams told the Herald on Sunday last March.

Given some of the extreme violence between rival Australian gangs which can spill into the public, Williams acknowledged the potential for the same to happen here.

"The reality of gang life, whether it's seen by the public or not, is one of violence. When dealing with the gangs, we're finding people with all sorts of firearms," Williams said last year.

Detective Superintendent Greg Williams is the head of the National Organised Crime Group. Photo / Mike Scott.

Detective Superintendent Greg Williams is the head of the National Organised Crime Group. Photo / Mike Scott.

"And there is friction when gangs try to move into an established drug market. So there may be [violence] that comes out of this. To date, there hasn't been.

"It will be interesting to see what happens."

The Herald is aware of one murder in New Zealand alleged to have been committed by members of the gang, which has grown in size by recruiting new members.

The Comancheros have also "patched over" senior members of other established gangs like the Waikato Mongrel Mob.

A year later, Williams today announced some senior members of the gang had been arrested and $3.7 million of assets had been restrained under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act.

So far, the gold-plated motorcycles, several late-model Range Rovers, a Rolls-Royce Wraith - which has a price tag of at least $500,000 - and two homes were among the assets seized.

The Herald understands senior members of the gang were living in expensive properties in the exclusive east Auckland suburbs of Bucklands Beach and Mellon's Bay.

Wealth is used by the gang to market themselves, said Williams.

"We are determined to strip them of that wealth that we allege has come from criminal offending, and take the profit out of it."

The raids across Auckland was the second termination phase of Operation Nova, an investigation into the gang, the alleged importing of drugs into the New Zealand and the laundering of millions of dollars.

Operation Nova found 11kg of methamphetamine from the United States hidden inside cooking appliances. Photo / Supplied.

Operation Nova found 11kg of methamphetamine from the United States hidden inside cooking appliances. Photo / Supplied.

The first phase of Operation Nova was announced in February with no mention of any links to the Comancheros.

Customs officers found 5kg of methamphetamine hidden inside cooking appliances, leading police to find another 6kg of the Class-A drug.

Four people were arrested in Auckland; a 50-year-old New Zealander, a 33-year-old Chinese national, a 60-year-old Canadian national and a 19-year-old from the United States.

Police believe the methamphetamine was smuggled from the United States, which in turn is likely to have been manufactured in Mexico by cartels.

The Canadian man arrested had a son living in Fiji, where two detectives from the National Organised Crime Group were sent to work with local police.

They found 39kg of cocaine at one address in Suva with a street value of around $20 million.

"This investigation shows the strength of New Zealand working with its close partners in the Pacific region to combat transnational organised crime groups intent on supplying methamphetamine and cocaine into the New Zealand markets," Detective Inspector Paul Newman said in a statement at the time.

A year after the Comancheros announced their arrival in New Zealand, Operation Nova was the perfect retort from police.

 

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