Jordan Bond is a reporter for NZME's Local Network.

Govt freezes $5.5m of assets and cash

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Police Minister Judith Collins.
Police Minister Judith Collins.

More than $5.5 million of property, cars, cash and other assets has been frozen in Hawke's Bay by the Government in the last year under a contentious law used to target gangs.

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 allows police to freeze and take someone's assets without finding them guilty of any criminal activity or even laying criminal charges.

The Government said the law gives police greater powers to stifle gang activity, but lawyers say the move is an over-reach and brings fundamental civil liberties into question.

I would be very uncomfortable with seizing citizens' assets without proof of guilt.
Stuart Nash, MP

Almost $7.2m worth of assets has been restrained in the Eastern police district since 2011.

Seventeen assets have been sold by the Crown, totalling $265,869. Just over $200,000 of this went into the Proceeds of Crime account, which funds law enforcement initiatives.

The other $64,000 was used to cover costs of administration and repayment of debts and reparation owed by asset owners.

Assets which police suspected had been acquired as a result of criminal activity could be restrained and forfeited to the Crown on the civil standard of proof, "the balance of probabilities" - a lower level than the criminal standard of "beyond reasonable doubt".

Police Minister Judith Collins said the act had been working effectively.

"Police have been extremely successful in investigating and seizing the dirty money of criminals and gangs since the Government passed this legislation."

She said 88 per cent of restraints and 96 per cent of forfeitures have been linked to drugs and/or organised crime.

"Gangs, organised crime, drugs and family violence drive much of police daily workload, and reducing these harms and crimes is a priority for the Police Commissioner and the Government."

She said the outcome of cases was determined in court.

Napier MP and Labour police spokesman Stuart Nash said he supported the law, but questioned the standard of proof required.

"I'm a huge believer in it. If you gain wealth or assets out the proceeds of crime, you should hand them back to the state when you get caught," Mr Nash said.

"I would be very uncomfortable with seizing citizens' assets without proof of guilt.

Reasonable probability is not strong enough. There has to be a conviction."

He said police action seemed to be targeted action toward gang activity but questioned whether other forms of organised crime, including fraud and tax evasion, were being investigated as thoroughly.

"I suspect [it is] because targeting gangs make good headlines, and every government likes to be seen to be tough on gangs, whereas white collar crime [is] not as newsworthy," he said.

Hawke's Bay Today sought the Police Minister's response to Mr Nash's comments but she did not directly address his concerns.

"Police use all of the tools at their disposal, including the legislation which has strengthened their ability to go after the assets and profits of organised criminals," she said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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