Police will make it easier for police to seize criminals’ illicit assets under a law change announced by the government today.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a “raft of” changes aimed at gangs at her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, aimed at depriving gangs of the benefits they derive from criminal activity.
The changes amend the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act, extending its measures to cover employees. This means that if someone is associated with an organised crime group and suspects they cannot legally fund their assets, they can now be required to prove to a court how they owned those assets – or face forfeiture risks of.
Attorney-General Kiri Allan said the change was “about ensuring crime is not paid and has significant consequences for crime and gang activity”.
Under the current system, she said, “organized criminals organize their affairs to avoid the restriction and confiscation of their illicit assets”.
“This is achieved by crediting the property to the employee’s name to create distance between them and the property,” she said.
Police Minister Chris Hipkins said the problem was widespread.
“Police experience with criminal proceeds investigations tells us that the use of intermediaries, third parties, relatives or friends is a feature of many cases being investigated now,” Hipkins said.
“The measures taken today continue the government’s multifaceted approach to addressing harm caused by gangs and other organised crime groups.
“This is the next step in the government’s work to curb crime and make our communities safer. It will mean that not only do we have more frontline police than ever before, but they also have greater powers to fight criminal gangs,” he said.
The law changes will give police new powers to crack down on associates of organised crime groups and limit their property, as their legitimate finances are apparently unlikely to enable them to gain access to assets.
It will also introduce a new court order that means overseas criminals with assets in New Zealand will risk losing them unless they can provide evidence within two months that they have lawfully acquired their property.
The law changes will also allow the government to seize funds in KiwiSaver funds, eliminating the possibility of criminals hiding illicit funds in KiwiSaver.
The government is concerned that criminal groups have been organising their activities so that property obtained through the proceeds of crime appears to be not connected to them but owned by an accomplice.
Criminals can register things like property and vehicles with the names of colleagues and family members to avoid associating them with criminal activity.
Ardern, meanwhile, is also expected to give a briefing on this week’s events and make comments on her itinerary for the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City later this month.
National has come out against the changes.
The party’s police spokesman responds to reports that the bill is imminent Mark Mitchell told Newstalk ZB that while he supports confiscation of gang assets, the bill ignores bigger issues.
“They’re not going to have any real impact right now on the amount of gang violence and gun violence we’re experiencing right now,” Mitchell said.
The Bills Party called the bill a “U-turn”.
The party’s justice spokeswoman, Nicole McKee, said Labour “has finally embraced the logic the bill has been promoting for years, that if you want to deal with those gangs, you need to be where they hurt – their wallets. – beat them”.
“If you profit from gangs, then you lose the incentive. If there’s money to be made, they’re going to find ways to get around law enforcement. If there’s no money to be made, they’re going to give up,” McKee said.
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