Seized land with links to a $1.17 million drug supply and money laundering operation may return to its gang owner following an appeal on cultural and spiritual grounds.
The Commissioner of Police obtained asset and profit forfeiture orders for Bay of Plenty property belonging to Valentine Barclay Nicholas and his partner Sheila Payne.
Although neither had relevant convictions, the Commissioner alleged, and the High Court accepted, that Nicholas was involved in a $1.17 million drug supply and money-laundering scheme.
Nicholas, a senior figure in the Maketu Mongrel Mob, saw five properties, cash and vehicles seized by order of the High Court.
But on appeal to the Court of Appeal in August, Nicholas challenged the forfeiture orders for four of the five properties, which included three residential properties on Maketu Rd, and a half share in an 8ha property at Whakamarama in Tauranga.
While he did not challenge the drug and money laundering finding, he argued the land is of cultural, spiritual and whanau significance and that its seizure would create undue hardship.
Yesterday, a decision by Justices Rhys Harrison, Ailsa Duffy and Joseph Williams said there is evidence strongly suggesting that some of the property is ancestral land.
Nicholas also said his counsel had failed to advise him that hardship impacts were relevant to forfeiture.
The Nicholas family own five residential properties in Maketu, one of which has a large gym and workshop.
Police said the complex is a gang headquarters, however Nicholas claims the gym is a community facility and the workshop is his.
Some of the Maketu land was purchased in 1990 and transferred to Nicholas in 1998, while other property owned near the Maketu Estuary was acquired by Nicholas' father, William Edward Nicholas (William Snr), and his first wife, Mereana, prior to 1955.
Following their deaths Nicholas and others in the family were given sections of the land.
While it is not Maori land, Nicholas said that he and his whanau are ancestrally connected to it through their Te Arawa whakapapa.
He argued that he and his whanau were raised on the estuary-side of the land and his family has treated the land as papakainga, the whanau village.
He also said his mum and his whenua, and those of his children, are buried on the land and that other whenua are "in the freezer" awaiting burial.
The Whakamarama land does, however, have Maori land appellation.
It was transferred to William Snr in 1962 by three shareholders as Maori land.
But in 1968, it was subject to a status declaration of the Maori Land Court which saw it changed from Maori land to European land, later known as general land.
It is now owned jointly by Nicholas and his brother, who acquired it from their father's estate in 1993.
The Court of Appeal said the evidence strongly suggests that the Whakamarama land is ancestral land originally belonging to Nicholas' father's hapu, while William Snr is buried at nearby Tawhitinui Marae.
The court granted the application to cite new evidence affecting the Whakamarama land and one of the Maketu Rd properties, Nicholas' family home.
The High Court will now hear evidence about whether the loss of the land would cause undue hardship to Nicholas and his family.