Land grab fears raised in gang crackdown

A blow has been struck against gangs with the passing of a law making it easier for the cops to seize the assets and profits illegally obtained by gangs – from the manufacture and supply of methamphetamine, for example.

It’s the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill, which repeals the Proceeds of Crime Act 1991 and introduces a new civil forfeiture regime to complement an enhanced criminal forfeiture regime.

Justice Minister Simon Power says senior organised crime figures for too long have been able to hide behind the people they hire to carry out their dirty work.

“This bill goes a long way to ending that.

“Till now, criminals have managed to hang on to the wealth they have accumulated by avoiding the conviction required under the current legislation before property can be forfeited.

“Under this legislation, a conviction is not required to trigger forfeiture proceedings for criminal proceeds.

“It will simply be sufficient to prove on the balance of probabilities that a person has unlawfully benefited from significant criminal offending.

Fair to say, the Bill was introduced back when the Beehive was being run by Clark and her claque.

But its passage has given Power a handy platform for flexing his law-and-order muscle:

“We have progressed this bill because the threat posed by organised crime to law abiding New Zealanders is real and unacceptable, and can best be managed by removing the funding necessary for such groups to operate.

“This is a particularly important tool in the fight against methamphetamine, given the large amounts of money being made by those who manufacture and supply this drug.

“This Government is not prepared to let public safety take a back seat.”

The law was enacted just a few days after Sunday News reported a Black Power chapter had been left “powerless and homeless after police confiscated the gang’s pad and its president was jailed.

Oh dear, what a shame.

Black Power New Zealand president Mark Pitman was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in September last year for being the mastermind behind what the Crown said was a million dollar-plus a year cannabis-selling operation.

Pitman is believed to have finally given up his battle to keep the gang’s Mount Wellington, Auckland, headquarters after fighting police through the courts for more than three years.

The 47-year-old who had amassed a property portfolio of almost $1 million before his arrest was to appeal the forfeiture of the two-storey Jolson Rd property which is painted in the gang’s dark-blue colours but last month withdrew his attempt.

Here’s what makes the new law big deal:

The seizure of the gang pad under the Proceeds of Crime Act was one of only a handful of successful confiscations of gang headquarters in New Zealand history.

A police national headquarters spokesman told Sunday News seizures of this type were “quite rare” and difficult to achieve.

The seizure came as Parliament pushed through the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill, which would give police more power to tear down gang pads and stamp out organised crime.

So was it plain sailing through the House for the new legislation?

Alas, no.

The Greens and the Maori Party seem to be full of angst about what might happen under the new legislation.

Rahui Katene, MP for Te Tai Tonga, drew attention to one of the 24 submissions received on the Bill, from the Dunedin Community Law Centre, raising the concern that there is inadequate provision for people to be able to appeal forfeiture order decisions. Hence:

A farmer could lose their land from another person growing cannabis on their farm without their consent or knowledge.

Alf will be alerting farmers in his patch to keep their noses clean and their properties free of criminal activity.

Katene floated another possible scenario located in the whenua with which she has whakapapa – Rangitoto – D’Urville Island.

I canvassed the possibility that land could be seized under this Bill; sold on the market; and ownership lost – and all done without the original owners being informed.

The Minister presented advice that innocent owners would be able to make application to the Court that the land be not sold.

But this is where the situation turns ugly.

Because of course, once the land is sold, it is too late then to stop the confiscation. Once the land is sold, it is too late for innocent owners to have the chance to go to Court to prevent the sale.

And notably, if these so called innocent owners simply lack the resources to be able to make an application to the Court, or to even pay for a lawyer to get them to base one, what then, js the situation they will find themselves in?

The Maori Party, essentially, was bothered by the possibility of designated Maori land being confiscated.

It is my deepest fear, that all this will lead to is another round of the confiscation of Maori land.

During the passage of the Bill, the Maori Party’s Te Ururoa Flavell presented a supplementary order paper to exempt Maori customary land and Maori freehold land; land that has ceased to be Maori land; land acquired from Maori for public works; Crown land set aside or reserved for use or benefit by Maori; and land vested as a consequence of settlement legislation.

A shabby attempt to produce one law for Maori, another for the rest of us, the way Alf sees it.

But the relevant supplementary order paper received the support only of the Maori Party and – let’s not be surprised – the bloody Green Party.

The Minister assured Katene he will watch carefully to see how the provision is utilised, and assured her he will monitor the situation carefully.

Good bloke, Simon. He’ll keep an eye on things.

And the Maori Party won’t remain buddies with the Nats if we start grabbing Maori land unjustly.

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