Police seize criminal assets worth millions

By Amy McGillivray


Police have seized millions of dollars worth of assets from Bay of Plenty criminals.

Almost $3.5 million worth of assets have been taken from the control of Bay of Plenty criminals with the same amount forfeited to the Crown in the past 30 months.

Figures released to the Bay of Plenty Times show the region's police used the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act to restrain six vehicles, nine residential properties, cash and bank accounts, motorcycles and equipment valued at $3.44 million between the start of 2011 and the end of June 2013.

Restrained assets are those that have been taken from the control of the alleged offender and placed in the hands of the Official Assignee while further investigations take place.

During that time 31 vehicles, 21 amounts of cash or bank accounts, 10 motorcycles, five residential properties, boats and trailers, plants and equipment, and jewellery worth $3.45 million were forfeited to the Crown.

Detective Senior Sergeant Craig Hamilton, from the police's Waikato and Bay of Plenty Asset Recovery Unit, said there was a growing awareness of the consequences of the Act among criminals.

"We're being proactive in this area of policing and we're taking property off bad guys. I think it's potentially the most effective tool we've got out there," he said. "There's certainly an awareness out there that we're actively looking to recover criminal proceeds on behalf of the community. The Act is still fairly young. It's only three years old."

The Act could be used any time police identified someone was making money from crime whether they had been convicted of criminal activity or not.

Assets could be restrained if the High Court was satisfied there were reasonable grounds to believe a person had unlawfully benefited from crime.

Forfeiture cases were then determined by the civil level of proof, the "balance of probabilities" rather than the much higher criminal evidential threshold of beyond reasonable doubt.

Before the formation of the Act in 2009 police could use only the Proceeds of Crime Act, which was based only on criminal conviction.

The bulk of the assets restrained and forfeited related to the sale of drugs or fraud, Mr Hamilton said.

Assets could be seized if it could be proven they were gained directly through the proceeds of crime; or if police could prove an individual had benefited from crime, assets worth that amount could be taken even if they were bought through legitimate means, he said.

"If it's not directly from the crime and we can prove a link between the property and the crime then it's value based. It's like suing the criminal."

Mr Hamilton said money from the sale of forfeited assets would be used to fight crime and drug addiction.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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