A fish dealer has agreed to forfeit half of a stack of cash found during an Armed Offenders Squad raid despite the search being ruled illegal.

A total of $72,730 said to be hidden under drawers and dressers at the home of Auckland fish dealer Brett Edwards was seized during the raid in September 2013.

The authorities claimed it was the proceeds of suspected "large-scale fraud of the quota system", whereas Edwards claimed it was in part from betting on a racehorse and sales of firewood and golf balls.

The raid was a key event in Operation Partridge, the Ministry of Primary Industries' protracted and troubled investigation.

Advertisement

Edwards admitted buying 720 kgs of blackmarket fish from undercover officers during phase one of the operation, but 100 charges that were later laid against him and others alleging a systematic rort were chucked out nearly six years after the operation began.

Along the way, two judges caned MPI for its conduct, as the Herald reported earlier this month.

Edwards unsuccessfully applied for a stay of proceedings claiming abuse of process by MPI but succeeded with his subsequent claim that the raid on his home was a breach of a provision of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act guarding against "unreasonable" search.

That meant the evidence - torn documents found in a sewer breather pipe - underpinning the 100 charges was inadmissible and the charges were dismissed.

Those who faced charges of having "obtained a benefit knowingly selling or otherwise dealing in fish in breach of the Fisheries Act" were Edwards, his company Mangere Bulk Seafood's, Carole Shorrock, a manager of the company, and Tauranga fisherman Roger Rawlinson and the Rawlinson family-owned RMD Marine, suppliers of fish to Edwards.

A separate tug of war ensued over the cash.

Edwards said the money came from betting on a family racehorse named Dauntless ($26,000), selling firewood and used golf balls ($20,000), the return of a house deposit ($15,000), plus cash from his fish business.

One judge, who agreed with Edwards that MPI had held on to the money unlawfully, noted that MPI clearly did not believe Edwards' explanation for the source of the cash.

Advertisement

Edwards' lawyer, David Jones, QC, declined to comment earlier this month when the Herald asked about the money but the police confirmed the Crown had claimed $35,000.

The Herald understands that MPI sent the money to the police, the Police Commissioner applied to the courts for it to be forfeited under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 and the parties essentially agreed to split it.

Under that Act, assets acquired wholly or in part as a result of suspected criminal activity can be forfeited to the Crown. It is up to the person to prove on "the balance of probabilities" that the property was obtained legitimately.

Edwards was sentenced to five months community detention and 100 hours community work after pleading guilty to some charges arising from the undercover sting.

He and MPI agreed to pay their own legal costs.

In response to our Official Information Act request, MPI reported spending $35,029 on outside lawyers.

The Ministry said because the case spanned so many years it was unable to provide a cost for the internal aspect of Operation Partridge without substantial research.

Ministry for Primary Industries

Oversees New Zealand's fishing, forestry, biosecurity and food safety interests.
Formed by a merger of MAF and MFish and the NZ Food Safety Authority four months before Operation Partridge began.

Operation Partridge

July 2012: Tip received alleging Brett Edwards is selling non-quota fish and slaughtering animals unregulated.

September 2013: Search warrants executed at Edwards family homes and business. Torn documents in sewer pipe and $72,730 cash seized.

April 2014: Edwards charged with illegal fish dealing with undercover officers.

September 2014: Edwards pleads guilty to three charges on the understanding it will end all Operation Partridge matters, receives community-based sentence.

May 2015: Edwards served with new Fisheries Act charges based on sewer documents.

October 2016: Application for stay of charges claiming abuse of process.

February 2017: Judge Raoul Neave doesn't grant stay but is scathing of MPI's conduct.

July 2017: $35,000 of the seized cash is forfeited to the Crown.

May 2018: Judge Anna Johns rules the search was unreasonable and that the sewer documents are inadmissible. Charges are dismissed.