New Zealand Police say they have dealt a "huge blow" to organised crime after a major trans-national sting resulted in 35 arrests and $3.7 million in assets seized.
But at least one major gang has come out blasting police - going as far as to call the whole operation a smear campaign.
Waikato Mongrel Mob's public relations liaison, Lou Hutchinson, took to Twitter to say: "Lol do you seriously believe all the bullsh*t spin about the Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom [sic] this is a total smear campaign driven by the NZ Police, politicians and mainstream media!"
The tweet was in reply to news reports about gang members from the Mongrel Mob, Head Hunters and Comancheros being arrested as part of Operation Trojan Shield.
Police this morning gave new details about Trojan Shield, which involved three major organised crime investigations and targeted the importation, sale and supply of methamphetamine, as well as money-laundering activities.
More than 300 NZ staff - including National Organised Crime (NOCG), Armed Offenders Squad, Special Tactics Group, Asset Recovery, High Tech Crime and Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Central and Wellington District staff - executed 37 warrants yesterday.
As of last night, 35 people had been arrested in connection with Trojan Shield - they were due to appear at the Auckland District Court and Hamilton District Court today facing a range of drug-dealing and money-laundering charges.
More than 900 charges have been laid. There were still outstanding arrests to be made, National Organised Crime Group director Detective Superintendent Greg Williams said.
One of the police operations linked to Trojan Shield - dubbed Operation Van - had specifically targeted the trans-national organised crime group linked to the Comancheros.
Williams said these groups had been "preying" on some of New Zealand's most vulnerable communities.
As part of the operation, up to 8.6kg of meth had been seized at the border.
Large bags of cannabis, multiple kilograms of iodine, four firearms, 14 vehicles and motorcycles, more than $1 million in cash and a number of mobile phones had also been seized.
In the past three years, NZ Police had found up to 20 organised crime groups that had been carrying out crime across international borders.
"This is a stunning piece of work," Williams said of Operation Trojan Shield.
"We believe the termination of these operations will have a significant impact on New Zealand's organised crime scene."
Search warrants executed across NZ
Police last night confirmed they were executing a number of search warrants at properties in the Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Central and Wellington districts.
One of the warrants was believed to have been executed in Pt England, Auckland, last night, when a resident saw armed police on the street.
Later, a house was cordoned off and numerous police officers - some of whom were armed - could be seen outside.
A witness said a motorcyclist drove past the house at high speed, seemingly without noticing the police. The man then returned and parked his bike before going into the nearby dairy.
When he left he was spoken to by police and taken into custody.
In West Auckland, locals in New Lynn said they had seen police around Rua Rd and nearby Croydon Rd last night.
"Saw two unmarked police cars on Rua Rd today - two cops with assault rifles stood at the end of the driveway by the crossing."
Residents in and around Whakatāne also reported seeing a heavy police presence in Ōpōtiki yesterday evening.
Staff at the News Whakatāne said they had received "multiple reports" of police there last night.
Criminal communications intercepted
Operation Trojan Shield, led by the FBI and co-ordinated with the DEA, AFP, Europol and other law enforcement partners from more than a dozen countries, is a covert law enforcement operation infiltrating encrypted devices used by trans-national crime groups.
In the past, the FBI has dismantled encrypted platforms criminals used to communicate.
Operation Trojan Shield saw the FBI create a closed encrypted company, called Anom, to fill this void and to target organised crime, drug trafficking and money laundering activities across the globe.
For over 18 months, Anom's criminal users unknowingly communicated on the system operated by FBI agents.
New Zealand Police began working with the FBI on Operation Trojan Shield in January 2020 to monitor the communication of platform users in New Zealand.
Information between the agencies led to the commencement of two local operations targeting drug and money-laundering offences.
"I am exceptionally proud of our New Zealand Police staff who supported Operation Trojan Shield," NZ Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said.
"It takes years to build these networks. Large-scale operations of this nature create enormous disruption and paranoia within organised crime groups because it breaks down their communication channels that they use to evade law enforcement detection."