More needs to be done to reduce methamphetamine demand in New Zealand despite yesterday’s global crime sting leading to the arrests of senior gang members, an expert says.
The comments from Jarrod Gilbert, University of Canterbury senior lecturer and author of Patched: A History of Gangs in New Zealand, come as police admit New Zealand is one of the world’s most lucrative illicit drugs markets.
Yesterday, New Zealand Police announced they had arrested 35 people and laid almost 1000 charges as part of the “world’s most sophisticated law enforcement action” against organised crime.
National organised crime group director detective superintendent Greg Williams says the 35 people arrested yesterday in Operation Trojan Shield were both residents and recent deportees from Australia – and they were operating in a highly-profitable market.
“The sad thing about New Zealand is our users are still paying some of the highest prices at a retail level,” Williams told Breakfast.
“Trans-national crime groups know this, so they target New Zealand, gangs are targeting our vulnerable communities and selling this product.”
Williams said police were focussed on trying to clamp down on the proceeds of drug dealing being moved offshore.
“In Auckland alone, as reported by the banks, between $2 million or $3 million in cash is going out on a weekly basis,” he said.
“We’re seeing some of the cash being used in the communities but we’re also seeing quite a significant amount being moved offshore back up to these people.”
Gilbert told Breakfast the arrests and intelligence gathered yesterday was “phenomenal”.
However, the $3.7 million in assets and $1 million in cash that was seized were on the lower end of the scale, Gilbert said.
“The amounts that were caught in this in New Zealand because of the timing of it, because it as internationally linked, were somewhat modest if you take it like that.”
“Potential for forward earnings were absolutely huge so this is really significant,” he said.
Gilbert said that while busts like yesterday’s were important, a “two-pronged attack” was needed in New Zealand in the longer term.
“Basic economics are at play here, supply and demand, so while we still have demand for meth, as Greg [Williams] pointed out a high price in New Zealand, people are always going to become involved in this trade so the longer term for this in New Zealand is to try and dampen down that demand,” he said.
“It’s good for communities of course but it also lessens the opportunity to make significant amounts of money, reduces that possibility for organised crime.
“Making these busts is incredibly important because it means these organised criminals can’t get an asset base, an asset base means they can use that money in even more nefarious ways.
“Perhaps through bribes, corrupting officials, people in ports, people in airlines and the like so knocking them off is incredibly important but we also have to look at demand and insuring our communities aren’t using the meth, when that demand drops, the market drops.”
Both Williams and Gilbert agreed that the intelligence gathered in Operation Trojan Shield gave police an unprecedented insight into the operations of trans-national organised crime groups.
Williams says intelligence gathered in the operation was a “godsend” for police.
“It’s really developed quite dramatically over the last six or seven years, you think our first major importation came in 2016 up in Northland,” he said.
As that happens law enforcement across the world gets a clearer understanding of how this whole process works, almost like illicit globalisation happens here.”
“In cases like this where we can get behind the encryption stuff we get a very clear understanding of how it all functions, how it moves and how it all operates here.”
In January last year, NZ Police became aware of the FBI’s plan to set up an encryption platform - ANOM - that would be used to snare organised crime networks across the globe, Williams said.
“There were 57 of these devices operating in New Zealand,” he said.
“The people before the courts were the people using those devices.”
Williams says there were over 20 trans-international cells operating in New Zealand.
Not enough was being made of the duping done by international law enforcement agencies, Gilbert told Breakfast.
“It means police will be able to put together exactly how these types of operations have been working,” he said.
“The intelligence gathering out of that alone is really, really significant.
“The insights that we will get into trans-national organised crime out of this one operation is phenomenal.”