A violent turf war between the Mongols and other motorcycle gangs in Tauranga - with at least six shootings - was over control of the local drug trade, according to a covert police investigation alleging commercial cocaine and methamphetamine dealing.
A chapter of the Australian gang was established in New Zealand last year after influential members were deported and the Mongols were soon in conflict with other gangs in the Bay of Plenty and Christchurch.
The leadership group of the Mongols were targeted in Operation Silk, a long-running inquiry by the National Organised Crime Group which terminated in raids on 10 homes across the Bay of Plenty yesterday and at least 228 criminal charges.
Senior members appeared in the Tauranga District Court this afternoon via an audiovisual link and were denied bail.
They were charged with a variety of alleged offences including; participating in an organised criminal group, money laundering, conspiracy to deal methamphetamine, supplying cocaine, unlawful possession of firearms and explosives.
Nineteen vehicles were seized – five motorcycles, one light truck, one heavy truck, seven cars, four utes, and a quad bike - as well as Molotov cocktails, ammunition, cannabis, methamphetamine, and cash.
Eight firearms were found during the search warrants, including two AK-47s and two military-style semi-automatic rifles. The discovery of the illegal weapons brought the total number of firearms seized off the Mongols to 28 since February.
The Mongols had been involved in six known shootings with other gangs, said Detective Superintendent Greg Williams of the National Organised Crime Group
"The ongoing violence between this organised crime group and other local gangs is simply about controlling a share of this drug market, and all these gangs have made it clear that they are prepared to use violence to protect their share," said Williams.
"This includes not only 'arming up', but a very clear propensity to use these firearms and commit other violent acts such as arson, serious assaults, aggravated robberies and serious violence, seriously impacting on the wellbeing of Bay of Plenty communities."
• The Head Hunters' $1m man in Tauranga
• From Harley Davidson to wheelchair: Inside the downfall of Killer Beez boss
• Patching over: Mongrel Mob leader's brother, nephew join rival Comanchero
• Gangs of New Zealand: Why gang numbers spiked by 50 per cent
• Inside the gang tensions which brought Tauranga to a standstill
• How a Sydney airport brawl changed NZ's gang scene forever
Williams hinted intelligence gathered during Operation Silk was able to be used to stop further gang violence, without the police revealing the existence of the covert investigation.
He referred to an incident on 12 June in which JD Thacker, the national president of the Mongols, was arrested after a loaded .357 Magnum pistol was allegedly found in the car he was travelling in.
"This proactive action was taken to prevent an attack on a rival gang," said Williams, which NZME understands was alleged retribution against the Greazy Dogs gang.
Police allege Thacker held a member of the Greazy Dogs at knifepoint on May 24 and took his gang-branded sweatshirt. For a gang member to have their gang colours taken by force is seen as humiliating.
A few weeks before Thacker was arrested, a large group of Greazy Dogs confronted a senior Mongol at his home in Matapihi - a suburb considered Greazy Dog territory - and a fight broke out.
Vastly outnumbered, patched Mongol Huritu and his family fled by jumping over a high fence at the back of the property.
Known as "the Wolf", Huritu, 37, is alleged to have been carrying two shotguns, which he stashed on the property of a frightened neighbour for safekeeping.
In April, Huritu was also charged with possession of a military-style semi-automatic rifle and methamphetamine after police investigated tit-for-tat shootings in February, triggered by the suspicious fire that destroyed the Mongols' barber shop in Greerton.
In retaliation, nearly 100 bullets were fired at a home of a Mongrel Mob leader which, in turn, led to carloads of Mongrel Mob members exchanging shots with Mongols near a property on No 2 Rd in Te Puke.
The same property was searched yesterday with Operation Silk staff using metal detectors and probing the earth under kiwifruit vines.
The public nature of the firebombings and daytime shooting is reminiscent of the Sydney gang wars in Australia, where many of the Mongols were deported from among the so-called "501s".
Named after the "character grounds" section of the Australian immigration law used to deport them, the arrival of "501s" in the form of the Mongols and Comanchero MC came at a time of growth in gang numbers.
Police data shows gang members now number more than 7000 for the first time, up 50 per cent between December 2016 and December 2019. In the Bay of Plenty alone there are 1439 gang members - the most of any police district.
While Operation Silk took place in the Bay of Plenty, NOCG also ran Operation Nestegg which targeted Mongols based in Auckland.
Methamphetamine, around $400,000 cash and five firearms were seized, although police are still looking for senior Mongols member Brodie Collins-Haskins.
• Anyone with information on Brodie Collins-Haskins can call 105 and ask to speak with Detective Sergeant Andrew Stevenson, or anonymously via Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111