Special report: A man who spent three years infiltrating Auckland's crime networks has uncovered a drug trade on a staggering scale.

As Jason Boon lay in his coffin, Terry* made a promise to his dead friend.

The 26-year-old Boon was bound, gagged and choked to death in his own home while his terrified fiancee and young daughter hid in a bathroom upstairs.

The police quickly arrested two men and a woman, believing the brutal home invasion in a quiet suburban street was a standover for drugs gone wrong.

But Terry thought there was more to the murder.

"Those mongrels did not take anything, never ransacked the place, nothing was missing. When I saw that coffin, I promised Jason I would find out what happened."

That vow led Terry down into an underworld of a size and scale that he never knew existed.

Mingling with criminal associates of Jason after the funeral, Terry heard whispers about the murder and by sheer luck met a main player in the methamphetamine trade.

The wife of a doctor, she kept him close when she learned he was close to the murdered man. Over the next few weeks, Terry socialised with the who's who of Auckland's underbelly.

Over time, he would even drive with her to visit P cooks and patched gang members in flagrant breaches of her bail conditions. A hard man, Terry was used by the woman as protection; she even trusted him enough to carry large wads of cash for safekeeping.

For the next three years years, Terry mixed with the criminal fraternity in Auckland, among whom Jason Boon lived with as a P smoker and low-level dealer.

Terry soon realised he had infiltrated the inner circle of organised crime in Auckland.

Rough around the edges, but no drug lord, Terry says he became so immersed in that world that his own family thought he was a drug dealer.

"I had to take drug tests to prove that I was clean."

He learned that the trio later convicted of Boon's murder - Guy Wilson, Paul Grace and Annette Heta - were with three leading criminal figures a few hours before the attack.

A large shipment of drugs had gone missing from a warehouse; Terry believed the gangsters wanted to know who was responsible.

"Guy Wilson is scum, a nobody. Those three were fed P, worked up into a frenzy and sent to Jason. Nothing was taken from the house, but he was held down and tortured and killed. Why? For information. These people are ruthless."

As Terry's quest became all-consuming, one name led to another. He gradually discovered a sprawling drug network making hundreds of millions of dollars from P.

Local gangs played a prominent role but real control lay with Asian crime syndicates. In the end he feared for his own safety and had to leave New Zealand.

After reading the Herald's week-long War on P series last year, Terry contacted us to help uncover the true scale of Asian organised crime in the country.

His personal experience and criminal contacts have built a disturbing picture of this country's huge and growing methamphetamine business and the organised crime syndicates which feed on it.

The main findings, confirmed by police, include:

* Drug syndicates took advantage of New Zealand's slack money laundering laws to shift most of their profits back to Asia, out of reach of law authorities here.

* The "big fish" are walking free overseas as younger criminals become scapegoats.

* Asian gangs have already begun trying to corrupt local police.

Police have been aware of organised crime in the Asian community in New Zealand since the late 1980s.

From behind a facade of legitimate commerce, the groups work across a range of illegal businesses from money laundering, drug imports and prostitution to credit-card fraud, extortion and paua smuggling.

Back in the 80s and 90s they were relatively minor players, but the growth of P in the past decade gave them a huge opportunity.

When gangs like the Headhunters and Hells Angels saw the profits to be made from methamphetamine, they needed criminal contacts to buy the drug, or its main ingredient, pseudoephedrine, from a source country like China.

Quickly, the Asian organised crime groups in New Zealand became crucial players in the drug trade and over time their international links made them the real power brokers.

"Commodity is power," says Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Cahill, of the Auckland Metro Crime squad. "The Asians had the commodity. So they had control."

He says New Zealand did not register on the international drug market until the millions of dollars being made from methamphetamine grabbed the attention of bigger players overseas.

Police do not call them "Triads" in New Zealand - as the hierarchy here is fluid, rather than the traditional pyramid structure - but the links to notorious international syndicates are real.

Gangs like Hong Kong-based 14K, rival Sun Yee On, Water Room, and Big Circle have all had a presence here, as well as Taiwanese and Vietnamese gangs.

Lately a Fujian group, named after their home province in China, has been prominent.

While Asians commit just 2 per cent of crime here, they now commit more than 80 per cent of drug importations.

Police and underworld sources agree that the organised Asian criminal groups work together as one network in the best interests of business.

One example is the connection between Ri Tong Zhou and Tac Kin Voong, ringleaders in methamphetamine syndicates who laundered $20 million between them at SkyCity.

Sentenced to 18 and 15 years in prison respectively, Voong and Zhou were seen rubbing shoulders in the casino VIP lounge and would deal with each other when drug supplies were low.

There is also a link between those police investigations in 2006 and the more recent Operation Acacia, which netted $6 million of drugs and 16 arrests last month.

"There's plenty of business to go around," says Cahill, whose drug squads investigated Voong and Zhou for months. "No one is fighting over territory, it's bad for business. Nothing attracts more attention than violent crime."

A criminal contact of Terry's, an influential figure in the Asian underworld agreed, adding that the different syndicates had influenced rival New Zealand gangs to "sit around the board room table together" rather than starting a turf war.

"In China, we say that everything is negotiable," says Peter*. "And money talks."

There is another aspect of Asian networks that police and criminals agree on: the "bigger players" are walking free, likely overseas.

"We're not naive enough to think that we understand the problem," says Cahill. "I am sure that there are much bigger players that we will arrest in the future."

Peter told the Weekend Herald that some of the biggest local druglords caught in recent years were in fact second or third level operators. For instance, in 2006, police and Customs caught 95kg of P and 154kg of pseudoephedrine in one shipment. Ringleader Wei Feng Pan - nicknamed "Spare Ribs" - was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Peter describes Pan as "level two". Voong and Zhou were "level three" in 14K, ringleaders of their individual syndicates but essentially middlemen in the wider international network. "Nine Fingers" is a top level 14K boss based in Hong Kong, who has visited Auckland in recent years.

All the men have aliases: "Visa", "Four Eyes", "Uncle Seven" to name a few.

Voong, known as "VC Tac", was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in July. His rank is believed to already have be taken by fellow Vietnamese "VC Sam", who was released from prison in May 2008 after serving 10 years for smuggling 10kg of high-quality heroin into New Zealand.

Immigration authorities were unable to deport "VC Sam" because he was not technically a citizen of Vietnam or the United States, where he grew up.

Now, he is likely to fill the vacuum in the methamphetamine market created by the recent success of Operation Acacia.

"There is a saying in China," says Peter. "One chicken die, one chicken born."

Cahill echoes the sentiment.

"We can take out the biggest player in New Zealand, but if he's just a lieutenant for someone based off-shore, he can easily be replaced."

Money is the only way organised crime can be broken, the police and criminal fraternity agree.

"Compared to Mr Asia, the money is on another scale. For police, it's the money in the Asian crime that has stunned us," says Cahill.

"Young guys driving around in $100,000 cars, 18 to 22-year-olds with $20,000 cash in their pockets. An apartment with $1 million in it. That sort of money."

Since stronger asset seizure laws were passed in December, nearly $20 million of assets belonging to suspected criminals have been restrained by police.

Yet New Zealand's lax money laundering laws - only recently tightened - means that that money seized so far is likely to be just a fraction of the true profits in the past decade.

"These people are greedy," says Peter, "You can send them to jail but they have millions and millions of dollars waiting for them in overseas banks.

"Police say this is a billion-dollar industry. But where is the money? It has been sent overseas. The money that has been taken so far, is nothing. If the police get the money overseas, it will rip out their heart."

In the past, Cahill concedes police have been "only scratching the surface" on money laundering. But chasing the money overseas is a key focus of the recently formed Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand (OFCANZ).

Beefed up anti-money laundering laws were passed in October with a "whole of government" approach to tightening financial and border controls, led by the Reserve Bank, the Securities Commission and the Department of Internal Affairs.

Any dirty money that does head offshore will no longer be beyond reach, says Detective Superintendent Brett Kane, of OFCANZ.

"Our focus on the money trails, as well as the criminality, has led to our successes so far. But our pursuit doesn't stop at the border and we have ongoing inquiries." "

The millions of dollars made from the misery of methamphetamine makes Terry sick.

While a seedy underbelly of drugs and money in New Zealand can seem unbelievable, the devastation is real. Broken families and violent crimes aside, chances are that your flatscreen TV or jewellery was burgled to feed someone's P habit.

Terry says the drug has ruined his life and shares the personal cost of this one-man crusade which has consumed him.

"Jason was killed because of this. I made a promise to him. And I'm determined to finish what I started.

"New Zealand is a small place, but the methamphetamine business is huge. Everyone is linked together but Asian syndicates control it. They are ruthless and the public need to wake up because this is real."

* Names have been changed to protect identity