Explainer: The intelligence operations behind mass arrests of gang members in Trojan Shield

Senior members of the Waikato Comancheros, the Waikato Mongrel Mob and the Head Hunters have been arrested as part of the New Zealand end of a massive international crime sting.

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Members of the Head Hunters, Waikato Mongrel Mob and Waikato Comencheros are among those arrested. Source: 1 NEWS

National Organised Crime Group director detective superintendent Greg Williams said at about 4pm yesterday police conducted 37 search warrants across the North Island. Operation Trojan Shield involved more than 300 personnel.

Thirty-five people were arrested, with 900 charges laid, and $3.7 million in assets have been seized.

The arrested people have appeared in Auckland District Court and Hamilton District Court this morning on serious drug dealing and money laundering charges.

Mongrel Mob, Head Hunters, Comancheros gang members arrested, $3.7 million in assets seized in Operation Trojan Shield

Police have also seized $3.7 million in assets as well as 20 ounces of methamphetamine, large bags of cannabis, mulitple kilograms of iodine, four firearms, 14 vehicles including two marine vessels, a number of mobile phones, and about more than $1 million in cash.

More warrants were being conducted today and police expected more arrests.

Police have been running multiple operations as part of an international effort with law enforcement agencies to investigate sale and supply of methamphetamine and money laundering activities.

Operation Van

It all started with Operation Van in 2018, which targeted a transnational organised crime group linked to the Comancheros, police said.

It was conducted with help from partner agencies and international ones, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Australian Federal Police.

Police allege the group planned to import huge quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine into New Zealand, but it never made it here. They also allege the group had used money laundering networks to move money offshore.

Operation Van resulted in the seizure of 137.5kg of methamphetamine from a storage unit in Rotorua in 2019.

One person plead guilty and had been sentenced for possession for supply, police said.

Operation Equinox

In another operation, Equinox, police seized 8.6kg of methamphetamine and 20 ounces of methamphetamine at the border.

Police allege Waikato Comancheros and Mongrel Mob Kingdom members worked with "offshore entities" to import large quantities of methamphetamine and MDMA for distribution across New Zealand.

Operation Seltos

Police also allege Auckland-based Head Hunters had dealt large amounts of methamphetamine in Operation Seltos.

Organised crime groups were using encrypted platforms to conduct international communications.

Detective Inspector Greg Williams speaks to media in Auckland. Source: 1 NEWS

"It creates a massive challenge for us," Williams said.

NZ Police contacted FBI in 2020 about a potential import into New Zealand.

A special encryption platform was set up to access encrypted organised crime communications.

It allowed access into several organised crime syndicates, Williams said.

Police also observed significant money laundering by the groups involved.

"It's a key focus for us to disrupt those cash flows.

"We couldn't do this without our partners," Williams said. That included, for example, Customs.

"What we are actually talking about here is these transnational groups preying on our vulnerable communities."