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International police operation: ‘Huge blow’ to organised crime; 35 arrests, $3.7m in assets seized

New Zealand Police say they have dealt a “huge blow” to organised crime after a major trans-national sting resulted in 35 arrests and $3.7 million in assets seized.

Police this morning gave new details about a large-scale international police operation that took place throughout New Zealand and overseas in recent days.

Operation Trojan Shield involved three major organised crime investigations and targeted the importation, sale and supply of methamphetamine, as well as money-laundering activities.

Over 300 NZ staff – including National Organised Crime (NOCG), Armed Offenders Squad, Special Tactics Group, Asset Recovery, High Tech Crime and Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Central and Wellington District staff – executed 37 warrants yesterday.

As of last night, 35 people had been arrested – they had appeared at the Auckland District Court and Hamilton District Court this morning facing a range of drug-dealing and money-laundering charges.

Senior members of the Comancheros in Waikato, Waikato Mongrel Mob and the Head Hunters were among those arrested.

Over 900 charges have been laid.

One of the police operations – dubbed Operation Van – had specifically targeted the trans-national organised crime group linked to the Comancheros, National Organised Crime Group director Detective Superintendent Greg Williams said.

He said these groups had been “preying” on some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable communities.

Williams said as part of the huge operation, up to 8.6kg of meth had been seized at the border. There were still outstanding arrests to be made.

In the last three years, NZ Police had found up to 20 organised crime groups that had been carrying out crime across international borders.

“This is a stunning piece of work,” Williams said of the operation carried out by authorities both here and overseas.

Offending across borders

It is understood those involved have allegedly offended across borders of multiple countries.

One of those who appeared at Hamilton Dictrict Court this morning is a 41-year-old Auckland man facing 68 charges, ranging from money laundering to importing methamphetamine and MDMA.

His other charges include conspiring to import MDMA and conspiring to import cocaine.

The offences are alleged to have been carried out, mainly in Hamilton or the Waikato, between 2019 and last month.

One charge relates to the alleged importation of 2kg of methamphetamine, on June 15, last year.

Many offences were alleged to have occurred with 11 co-accused, however most relate to one or two other co-accused.

He also faces charges of supplying methamphetamine and MDMA.

One charge, for which he is jointly charged, also relates to conspiring to import cocaine at Thailand on October 2 last year.

The money laundering charges relate to cash totalling more than $700,000.

Police last night confirmed they were executing a number of search warrants at properties in the Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Central and Wellington districts.

Trojan horse app cracked

Australian media earlier reported that the sting involved members of the Australian Federal Police working with overseas authorities, including the FBI, for up to three years.

During that time, they monitored a Trojan horse app dubbed AN0M that gangsters thought authorities couldn’t tap into, Australia’s Herald Sun reported.

“Police will allege senior Australian Mafia figures, feared bikies and members linked to South American drug cartels, Asian Triads and Middle Eastern and European criminal syndicates have been exposed by the sting – the largest in Australian history,” the newspaper said.

A police spokeswoman told the Herald last night that the warrants are in relation to a National Organised Crime Group operation.

One of the warrants was believed to have been executed in Pt England, Auckland last night, when a resident saw armed police on the street.

Later, a house was cordoned off and numerous police officers – some of whom were armed – could be seen outside.

A witness said a motorcyclist drove past the house at high speed, seemingly without noticing the police. The man then returned and parked his bike before going into the nearby dairy.

When he left he was spoken to by police and taken into custody.

Heavy police presence in Auckland, Ōpōtiki

In West Auckland, locals in New Lynn said they had seen police around Rua Rd and nearby Croydon Rd last night.

“Saw two unmarked police cars on Rua Road today – two cops with assault rifles stood at the end of the driveway by the crossing.”

Residents in and around Whakatāne also reported seeing a heavy police presence in Ōpōtiki yesterday evening.

Staff at the News Whakatāne said they had received “multiple reports” of police there last night.

Overnight raids carried out around the globe

The overnight raids are said to be part of an international crime sting organised by Australian authorities and America’s FBI over the last three years.

The Herald Sun newspaper said Australian Federal Police staff had worked with the FBI to monitor the AN0M app that organised crime gangs used to plan executions, mass drug importations, industrial-scale money laundering and gun running.

Up to 4000 properties around Australia are said to have been raided by police.

Raids on AN0M users were carried out by authorities overnight – including in the US, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Police told the newspaper that they foiled up to 21 murder plots and exposed the trafficking of billions of dollars worth of drugs into Australia.

More than 100 people have been charged, 3366kg of drugs and $35.8 million in cash seized, the Herald Sun reported. Up to 72 firearms were confiscated.

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