Asian crime gangs in New Zealand have flourished. Huge profits from the P trade are behind their expansion. The gangs share some elements in common. Here are four:

Money laundering

The largest seizure of drug money was nearly $2.5 million linked to Operation Ice Age found at a foreign exchange outlet across the road from SkyCity.

More recently, money laundering charges have been laid against two men who allegedly helped transfer $1.9 million linked to Operation Acacia which netted nearly $6 million of drugs, a cache of 21 firearms but just $400,000 in cash.

Dreamland Finance director Jiuliang Wei, 26, and finance manager Xiang Zhang have been jointly charged with laundering nearly $2 million in the past year.

Wei fled to China before he was arrested. Even that amount is likely to be just a fraction of the true profits. Drug money was easily transferred overseas through foreign exchange companies like Dreamland, although new money laundering laws aim to tighten the net.



Corruption

Cash and information have been offered as bribes to police officers arresting those involved in organised crime. Corruption is a threat because of the huge amounts of money involved, says Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Cahill, also Police Association vice-president.

"We have arrested people who can't understand why police can't give them bail in exchange for information, seizures of other products or cash," says Cahill. "I think corruption is a real threat."

Though there have been no successful attempts to corrupt police so far, Cahill says there have "certainly been some concerns".

These concerns include Chee Kent Tan, a P dealer who joined the police before he was identified in Operation Ice Age. "Was he a plant? We don't feel he was but he was certainly in a position that he could be used once he was there," says Cahill.






Scapegoats

Asian students asked to receive drug parcels in the mail have been used as scapegoats to divert police when larger shipments are smuggled in.

Cultural ties mean young people studying here often feel obligated to act as "catchers" for parcels of ContacNT - a P ingredient which is a legal cold medicine in China - sent from home.

Or they mix with the wrong crowd and see the easy money to be made. It keeps police and customs busy. "These young kids do it. But a few kilograms in the mail is nothing compared the big shipments coming in," says Peter*.

The influential criminal figure went further to suggest that the Asian networks "give up" smaller players to police as a diversion.

He cited the case of 17-year-old Chun "Larry" Lee, the North Shore schoolboy who was a "catcher" of parcels sent from China. Paid just $5000, Lee was sentenced to four years in prison after being caught with $250,000 of P hidden inside hairdryers.

"That boy was just a decoy who was given up because there was a big shipment of drugs coming."





The big fish

While drug squads have had a number of successes in recent years, police openly admit the true kingpins of the drug trade are walking free - most probably overseas.

Auckland businessman Hing Hung Wong made headlines when he was arrested here in 2000 by the FBI for masterminding a plot to smuggle hundreds of millions of dollars of heroin into California. It was the largest shipment caught at the time.

The Weekend Herald has learned Wong was head of 14K in New Zealand and the first to organise large imports of methamphetamine into Auckland.