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Strong government response to organised crime

Strong government response to organised crime

Organised crime is a longstanding problem around the world, and it is doubtful a formal inquiry into it would reveal anything that the government did not already know, Justice Minister Phil Goff and Police Minister George Hawkins said today.

"We are happy to talk to Greg O'Connor about the Police Association's concerns at any time. The government takes the threat of organised crime very seriously, and we have introduced a range of measures to suppress it," the Ministers said.

"The government will shortly introduce a proceeds of crime bill that will hit organised crime hard by targeting the assets of the Mr Bigs, who keep themselves at arm's length from the actual offending but still take the profits.

"As Mr O'Connor has noted, stripping criminal gangs of assets is the best way to bust organised crime. This legislation will seriously reduce the profitability of their activities. It will also act as a disincentive and disrupt their capacity to finance further criminal activity.

"The legislation will allow the Courts to restrain the assets of people believed to have benefited directly or indirectly from crime. Those assets can be then be confiscated if the Court is satisfied that on the balance of probabilities the respondent derived some benefit from criminal activity. No specific criminal offence need be proved, and once the Court is satisfied that a case has been made for restraining assets, the respondent will have to prove their property was legally obtained.

"The government has already put significant resources into fighting organized crime. Funding in this year's Budget more than doubled staff, from 13 to 31, at the National Interception Centre (NIC), which undertakes electronic intelligence aimed at organised crime and gang involvement in the drug trade.

"The Budget also provided a third six-person surveillance team plus additional technical support for the Auckland Metro Crimes Services group, which focuses on on-the-ground surveillance of gangs and trans-national organised crime.

"Changes made in 2002 to section 98A of the Crimes Act, which covers participation in a criminal gang, have seen a dramatic increase in the number of prosecutions brought by police under that section – 76 last year, compared to a total of 16 for the previous five years.

"An amendment to the Crimes Act in 2003 strengthened the ability of Police to fight organised crime by allowing them to intercept written communications such as text messages, emails and faxes, as well as oral communications.

"Counter Terrorism legislation passed in 2003 allowed Police and Customs officers to use electronic tracking devices as an investigative tool, and gave Police the power to require assistance from a person where necessary, such as providing passwords to access computers.

"Legislation has been already passed that increases the penalty for trafficking in methamphetamine up to life imprisonment, and Police and Customs now have the power to search and seize without a warrant where they believe methamphetamine is present. Legislation in the pipeline includes a Misuse of Drugs bill to ban the importation of precursors to methamphetamine.

"Substantial resources have been provided for all agencies involved in tackling the drugs trade, including Police, Customs and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR).

"The 2003 Budget provided $8.6 million for Police and Customs to fight meth. Last year's Budget provided a further $39 million over four years for a third 12-person Police clan-lab team; four chemical intelligence analysts, and an additional $17 million for ESR forensic analysis work, as well as the extra NIC staff and Auckland Metro surveillance team.

"The government's response has had a huge impact. The police clan-lab teams have detected and closed down hundreds of such laboratories, and there is some evidence now that manufacturing in New Zealand is in decline.

"Secondly, Customs has intercepted and seized record levels of methamphetamine and its precursors. Last year there were 53 significant drug seizures – up from 28 in 2003 – with over 17.5kg of crystal methamphetamine and 1.8 million capsules of precursors intercepted.

"Thirdly, ESR has now cleared up the backlog of its cases and is undertaking that analysis in real time," the Ministers said

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