Breaker Meurant

By Phil Taylor

Red Squad, Russian mafia, scampi scandal, gun-running, the life of ex-MP Ross Meurant is nothing if not colourful. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Red Squad, Russian mafia, scampi scandal, gun-running, the life of ex-MP Ross Meurant is nothing if not colourful. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Ross Meurant (63) has a talent for trouble.

Ask what was the worst thing he did in his bad old police days and he says this:

"I won't say what I did. What I will say is I had my share of allegations against me and they range from brutality to perjury and probably the most visible was an allegation I played Russian roulette with a drug dealer with a police revolver."

The last matter, he hastens to add, was subject to a court hearing and not upheld.

He admits he was no angel, that he has regrets. He blames a culture he is now campaigning to change "deep in the forest". That's the phrase he chooses to describe that culture.

He was 19 when he joined the police. Fresh-faced, keen, ambitious, vigorously competitive and a product of small town New Zealand (Te Kopuru, Northland), he was perfect fodder for the forest.

Police icons were macho men, tougher than the crooks, legends in their own police bars. Young Meurant beefed up to 115kg and earned himself a black belt in karate.

Now weighing 95kg and with a swag of university degrees under his belt, not to mention a tumultuous political career and a business life that has taken him through eastern Europe (he has a home in Prague), he can see the wood from the trees.

"When you become part of the police you want to participate, you want that career and you step into this forest. But I think the tragedy is too many young cops get caught up in this ethos of 'we are the guardians, we know what is best, our means justify our ends, we look after each other'."

It goes to the top, says Meurant.

And so he is pushing a whole lot of bother towards the door of Police National Headquarters. He is helping Rochelle Crewe in her bid to have the country's most infamous unsolved murder case - the slaying of her parents Jeanette and Harvey - reopened.

On the front page today, Meurant claims to have been pressured by the police commissioner at the time to change his evidence to the 1980 Crewe Royal Commission to suit the police case that Arthur Alan Thomas was the murderer. The commission concluded that police planted a shellcase to frame Thomas.

Meurant says he is concerned about what he calls "the rule of police" and gives as recent examples instances in Auckland and Christchurch of police deciding not to lay charges when a police officer shot a person dead.

The police then and now, he says, will go to great lengths "to avoid scrutiny by the rule of law".

It needs to be noted, however, that all fatalities involving police are automatically investigated by the Independent Police Conduct Commission (which has its own investigators, mostly former police officers from New Zealand and abroad) and a coronal inquiry (investigative work done by police).

As a result of an article Meurant wrote, he received an email "out of the blue" from Rochelle Crewe. Hers is a name instantly recognisable by a generation of New Zealanders. She is now 41 but in the absence of a recent photo, she has forever remained the toddler left crying in her cot by a double murderer, the forgotten victim. That email put Ross Meurant back in the picture.

"Some people just go through life and it all seems to happen," says Meurant. "This is how my life has been, whether it was scampi [a quota scandal of a decade ago], whether it was this, whether it was something else. I just seem to have been in different places when things happened."

He became the focal point of the infamous riot-control group Red Squad, blamed for the clowns incident during the 1981 Springbok tour where passive protesters dressed as clowns were beaten. There was an inquiry, Meurant's Red Squad refused to co-operate. No one was charged.

He became "Meurant, the gunrunner" in the public's mind after media learned that, while he was the MP for Hobson, he was brokering a deal to sell surplus New Zealand Army rifles overseas. Of that affair, he says he had connections, was trying to help and there was to be no fee for him.

Later Meurant, who speaks Russian, was a director of a Russian-owned, Vanuatu-registered bank called Prok. Because there was a view in international media that the Russian mafia was behind emerging eastern banks, a legend developed that Meurant was close with the Russian mafia.

Was he? The short answer is no - and yes.

A longer answer: Prok wasn't associated with mafia of the popular notion where gunmen run around "whacking" people. But, he says, the more subtle form of mafia, a protective elite, is pervasive and probably involved in every meat deal New Zealand has done with Russia.

"I'm talking about the business elite, former KGB colonels, who have formed a pervasive network of relationships and, probably, enforcement."

We meet in a quiet nook of an inner-city hotel. First impressions: he's barrel-chested, smaller than I'd expected, seems affable though tentative. But what catches the eye is his jumper and matching socks, so brightly-coloured they might have been grounds for ostracism in the narrowminded police force he describes.

When I remind him of his warning in his maiden speech (1987) to parliament that Maori radicals were preparing to plunge the country into civil war, he cheerfully admits he was wrong. "I was still in the culture."

He has criticised the ill-conceived raids in 2007 on supposed terror camps in the Ureweras.

Meurant's journey out of the forest, to use his imagery, began through higher education. He enrolled at Auckland University (his tutors included future Labour prime minister Helen Clark) at a time he says most police had a complex about tertiary-educated people.

"I had that complex too but when I got to university I realised there was nothing to be scared of and because they had long hair, they weren't necessarily evil, and because they voted Labour it didn't necessarily mean they were terrorists."

He describes that period "when the mist began to abate". In the police he began to suggest initiatives such as police being interned with major corporations to learn management skills. It was the beginning of his metamorphosis as an independent thinker who later formed the first party under MMP ROC, Right of Centre, named after Meurant's economic conservatism. (He voted in favour of gay rights and abortion on demand and advocated legalising cannabis.)

Meurant doubts an inquiry into the Crewe case can identify the murderer 40 years on, as witnesses have died and much evidence has been destroyed. But he sees other benefits. "I think Rochelle is deserving of an inquiry to look at so many instances where police ignored evidence. In my opinion, aside from Thomas having been pardoned, there is no evidence to put him anywhere else than in his ... bed the night the murder was committed.

"And I think it is an outrage that [Len] Demler went to his grave knowing half the country believed he had smashed his daughter in the face with a rifle butt and shot her. Rochelle Crewe deserves an apology for the grief that alone has caused her family."

Meurant spends much of his time in Europe. He and a former MAF director have joint venture interests in the abalone industry in Syria, Morocco and other Arab states. He regularly returns to New Zealand where he has two children from a past marriage and where he does a little work monitoring forestry and commercial property assets for a wealthy Russian family.

And no, says Meurant, it is not the family of an ex-KGB colonel.

A life less ordinary

* Face of controversial police anti-riot group Red Squad of the 1981 Springbok tour

* Entered Parliament 1987 as National MP for Hobson, served three terms

* Registered the first party under MMP, Right Of Centre, reflecting his right-wing economic philosophy

* Lives in Prague and has fisheries interests in several Arab states.

- NZ Herald

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