Thai woman Jindarat Prutsiriporn was held hostage for 22 hours in March 2016. She died several days after flinging herself from the boot of a moving vehicle while her kidnappers transported her across Auckland. The man who orchestrated the mother of three's kidnapping using the Head Hunters' hit squad is now appealing his convictions. Sam Hurley delved into the case in 2017.
A woman dies in hospital two days after falling from the boot of a speeding car among Auckland's evening traffic. She was trying to escape after being snatched 22 hours earlier. But what happened during those hours, and in the days leading up to the kidnapping? The Herald inspects the court files.
What motive did a tall, slightly built Cambodian man have to hire a notorious gang's heavy hands and kidnap a mum of three?
Bad blood was the courtroom consensus.
But over what? A turf war, a battle of money and drugs, or was it something else?
"This trial is about the kidnapping and death of Ms Jindarat Prutsiriporn," crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes told a jury at the start of a 10-week trial in May for those charged with offences relating to the Thai woman.
Standing in the High Court dock was Apihcart Korhomklang, Luigi Havea, Tafito Masi Vaifale, Joseph Benjamin Haurua and Tevita Matangi Fangupo - the only man found not guilty of kidnapping or manslaughter.
Others had already pleaded guilty for their parts in the kidnapping plot.
However, the focus would soon be on the man who stood third-in along the back row and dressed in a white shirt.
His name is Seng Lek Liev: The architect of the kidnapping.
Underworld unveiled: Six jailed over fatal kidnapping
The 27-year-old Cambodian man, who was on bail for violent offending at the time, hired the Head Hunters' "ghost unit", the gang's musclemen, to kidnap Prutsiriporn.
His main contacts with the ghost unit were two brothers, Panepasa Havea and Luigi Havea.
Panepasa Havea pleaded guilty to snatching Prutsiriporn while Luigi Havea went to trial.
Prutsiriporn's kidnapping was first planned during a meeting at Mission Bay, with the ghost unit initially attempting to snatch her in February 2016.
But the group aborted their mission when they were disturbed by police patrolling nearby.
Undeterred, Liev formed a new plan to kidnap his target.
It was to take place two weeks later on the evening of February 29, 2016, under the guise of a drug deal.
This time, along with the ghost unit, Liev hired two more men, Sodarith Sao - who pleaded guilty to kidnapping and manslaughter - and Korhomklang.
At 9.30pm Prutsiriporn was grabbed.
The next and final 22 hours of her life were hell - she was held without food or water, at times bound in the backs and boots of cars, and shifted to several properties around Auckland.
She was bloodied.
Eventually she escaped when she prised open the boot of a moving car, but it cost her life.
Cambo Jack and Nui: Who are Seng Lek Liev and Jindarat Prutsiriporn?
"Could you please tell us your full name," Kayes asked a witness mid-trial.
"Ji Yoon Ha," was the reply.
She was a Korean woman who moved to New Zealand when only about 12 years old.
"I want to ask you some questions about someone you know by the name of Jack?" Kayes asked.
"Do you know him by that name, or have you ever called him Seng Lek Liev?"
"Seng Lek Liev," replied Ha.
"What other nicknames did you know him by?" Kayes said.
"Jack, CJ and Cambo Jack," she listed.
Liev was called Cambo Jack because of his home country.
Ha first met Liev in an Auckland bar called Zeus on July 25, 2015, and they soon formed a relationship.
Liev could speak Cambodian, English, Thai, Chinese and some basic Korean, she said.
The couple lived together in an inner-city apartment before also staying for a period in the upmarket Auckland suburb of Remuera.
Later, In December 2015, there was an incident involving the pair at a city apartment.
The police attended.
Constable Joshua Ballantyne was one of three officers who arrived to the White St building about 8.45pm.
"When I arrived he was lying on a couch which was near the main door. He was handcuffed at that point," Ballantyne said of Cambo Jack.
The officer thought Liev was either drunk or high.
"It was fairly chaotic when I arrived but I dealt with four people in the living room of the apartment," Ballantyne said.
Prutsiriporn was one.
The officer wrote her name on his notepad, and her date of birth. He also recorded her nickname - Nui.
As Ballantyne searched the apartment he found what he thought to be crystal meth and Prutsiriporn was arrested at 9.35pm on drugs charges.
At the Auckland Central Police Station, Ballantyne found a larger bag of meth in Prutsiriporn's bag along with some cash.
She was known to police, having been previously convicted of supplying meth as well as other drug offences.
Taken: The kidnapping
Liev's first planned kidnapping of Prutsiriporn was aborted on February 15 when police were tipped off about a suspicious group near her home.
The day before, members of group including Luigi Havea, Vaifale and Haurua met in Mission Bay.
A photo was later found on Luigi Havea's phone, taken that afternoon, showing members of the ghost unit lying on the grass near the beach.
Liev was also in the area.
Haurua sent a text to an associate after the Mission Bay meeting.
"We had a meeting with cousin Asian guy G, we on a snatch job, as we text my G, LOL Waterview area."
Later he said: "We're picking up an Asian chick gee, she owns coin topassa."
The first mission involved waiting for several hours outside Prutsiriporn's Waterview home. However, she didn't return to the house that night.
At 12.09am Haurua, nicknamed the Joker, texted Fangupo and said: "Uce, me Joker, get me on this number Uce, turned my other one off."
Haurua texted Fangupo again, "Still waiting, Uso?"
"Uce, yous good?"
Fangupo replied, "Yeah, Uce, she ain't home yet, already checked."
Haurua responded, "Little b**ch, she must know, Uce."
Police received a report about a group of people sitting in the dark, and about 2.40am approached the ghost unit.
Then at 2.44am Haurua sent a text to Fangupo.
"F**k Uce, pigs are here, Uce, don't come back," he said.
Disturbingly, the ghost unit was able to determine who phoned the police after a criminal source at Vehicle Testing New Zealand checked a series of number plates.
After the failed job, Haurua texted his associate: "The job wasn't a go ahead so we've got to find another way to hit it."
A new plan was formed to kidnap Prutsiriporn. It was to take place two weeks later on the evening of February 29, 2016, under the pretence of a drug deal.
This time, in addition to the ghost unit, Liev engaged the assistance of two other men, Sao and Korhomklang.
Korhomklang was part of the ruse to lure her out of her house, while Sao was to help detain Prutsiriporn and later be a driver.
About 8pm the ghost unit arrived at Prutsiriporn's home, but again she wasn't there, so the gang went to the Edinburgh Castle Pub on Symonds St and played on the pokies.
Prutsiriporn returned home about 9pm and made contact - she was ready to make the arranged drug deal.
She left her house and got into the back seat of a black ute.
It was at that point the ghost unit struck.
Two men opened the rear passenger doors, including Panepasa Havea, who told Prutsiriporn: "Don't scream or try anything or else I will shoot you. If you try anything I know where your family lives and I will hurt them."
Then he made a phone call and within a minute another car pulled up alongside the ute and Prutsiriporn was bundled into the back and driven away.
Prisoner: 22 hours a hostage
With Prutsiriporn detained, Korhomklang and Sao began trying to arrange for more vehicles to transport her.
In the early hours of March 1, Haurua and Vaifale, who had the job of restraining Prutsiriporn, began to worry about where to take her as dawn approached.
Haurua texted Fangupo and Luigi Havea at 6.34am.
"Tokos, be best for us to move asap while it's still dark," he said.
Haurua and Vaifale held Prutsiriporn at Haurua's home in Hastie Ave in South Auckland for about an hour.
At 7.05am Vaifale sent Haurua a text reading: "Any long rags I can blindfold her with uce?"
The rag they found was a sheet - a distinctive white one with blue flowers - which they tore up and used to bind Prutsiriporn.
But Prutsiriporn was beginning to struggle and Haurua and Vaifale wanted to leave the Hastie Ave house quickly.
"Uso, we're gonna move g. She's being too noisy uce," Haurua updated Luigi Havea in a text.
Haurua even reached out to his girlfriend for help.
"Baby, you have anyone that you know that has a garage we could use for a couple of hours to hide this f**khead?" he texted.
But it was decided Prutsiriporn would be taken to a property on Wayne Dr, Korhomklang's Mangere home.
She was moved into the garage and at 10am Haurua sent confirmation to Luigi Havea.
Prutsiriporn spent much of the day detained in that garage.
A cigarette butt was later found in front of the home with Haurua and Vaifale's DNA on it.
Later at the house a discussion was held - Liev had arrived.
Sao, Korhomklang and Luigi Havea were also there along with another man, whom the Herald cannot name for legal reasons.
The unnamed man said Liev told him they wanted to use his car to transport a Thai woman in the boot.
The man was concerned, worried the woman might scream and cry, but Liev assured him she had been tied up and her mouth gagged.
Four options were discussed, and the gang settled on Prutsiriporn being moved to yet another address.
She was loaded into the boot of a silver Toyota Mark X, and Korhomklang drove her away to a home in Papatoetoe.
Other members of the group, including Sao and Liev, arrived at the new address about 5pm. Luigi Havea, Haurua and Vaifale didn't follow.
Shortly after arriving, Liev assumed his command again and placed Sao in charge of his captive before he left.
Then about 6.45pm, Sao could hear banging sounds coming from the boot - Prutsiriporn was beginning to struggle again.
Sao decided to move her again and began driving through Papatoetoe.
But at 6.57pm, he sent a series of panicked texts intended for Liev.
"She up. What do who.
"She opened the f**kin boot jump out."
Inflicted fear: Prutsiriporn's escape
"It was like a silver sedan, kind of looked like brand new, yeah, just standard," Charles Sarich told the court.
He was describing another Auckland evening sitting in traffic alongside his partner along Huia Rd in Papatoetoe.
Then the light turned green.
"The two cars in the front go around the corner, the silver car sat there for a bit and then took off ... pretty fast, it was an 'err', kind of like a little screeching sound," he said.
"The car took off, the boot come open and then the lady come out from the ... the boot opened, the lady came out of the boot."
Sarich was shocked and had just witnessed Prutsiriporn tumble from the back of the Toyota directly in front of him.
"My windows were open," Sarich said. "I could hear like a - like gargling sounds ... She had like a white cloth around her, around her neck and like a blue dress, dress tie sort of thing. And duct tape and some rope on her body," he said.
Prutsiriporn was foaming at the mouth, Sarich said, her ankles were duct taped and she was barely conscious.
Sarich and other motorists, including a woman who worked at Middlemore Hospital, attempted to untie Prutsiriporn and placed her in the recovery position until paramedics arrived.
But in the moments before Sarich's dramatic experience, Prutsiriporn had been looking for a way to escape.
The owner of the Toyota Mark X was a chicken de-boner and in the boot of the car were his tools, including a knife and a chef's steel.
Prutsiriporn sensed an opportunity.
She hid one of the knives in some foam and shoved it down the front of her trousers.
Then she found the chef's steel.
Police photos of the boot of the car show gouges in the metal surrounding the lock, a clear sign of Prutsiriporn's desperate bid to escape.
The Crown argued throughout the trial that Prutsiriporn's kidnappers did not intend for her to die, but "they inflicted fear" and "threats of violence".
It was this fear which resulted in her having no other choice but to fall from a moving car, the Crown said.
She had forced the boot open while the car was sitting at the traffic lights, but as it sped away, the boot flung open and she was thrown out, hitting her head on the road.
When Sarich found the 158cm, 50kg woman the chef's steel was still by her hand.
She died in hospital two days later.
Operation Sisal: 'Termination Day'
May 11, 2016.
Police met at 5.15am at the Manukau Police Station.
Detective Sergeant Karin Bright led a briefing and instructed a group of officers who would take part in a raid on a Nelson St apartment complex.
It would be one of several properties targeted that day across Auckland, resulting in the arrests of 11 suspects connected to Prutsiriporn's kidnapping.
It was understood Liev was in the apartment - It was what police would call "Termination Day".
The entry team went in at 6.27am.
Sergeant George Grove, the officer in charge of Operation Sisal's files, arrived just after 7am.
"Two males were present in cuffs on the ground in the lounge room of the address, lounge kitchen, and I immediately identified one of those males as Mr Liev," Grove said at the trial.
Detective Sergeant Karin Bright was reading Liev his rights, Grove noticed, before he took over.
"I'm speaking to you about the kidnapping and murder of Jindarat Prutsiriporn and the search warrant is in relation to her," Grove told Liev.
The Cambodian replied: "Okay, I don't know. Who?"
The charges hadn't been formalised yet and Liev was later charged with manslaughter.
Police found Liev's phone and seized it, helping to uncover the text messages between him and the ghost unit.
As the search continued, Grove offered Liev one of his cigarettes, Marlboro Reds, but the slim man asked for his pack of Marlboro Blue Ice.
About 8.40am police found a large plastic zip-lock bag containing the remnants of a white crystalline substance.
"What was in this?" Grove asked Liev.
"Ice," was the reply.
"What do you mean by ice?" The officer said.
"I smoked it. It's what I told you. I sometimes smoke meth, I smoked a little last night, it has my fingerprints on it," Liev said.
Liev was arrested for kidnapping Prutsiriporn and taken to the Auckland Central Police Station at 9.05am.
When he arrived he asked to speak to a lawyer - he spoke to two for about an hour.
The lawyers advised Grove their client was willing for a DNA suspect sample to be taken, and for challenges to be made to him, but was not going to make any statement.
Liev was left alone with his thoughts and a bacon and egg sandwich.
Later in the early afternoon he was to be moved to Manukau Police Station.
"I might have changed my mind about not talking. Can I talk to my lawyer?" Liev said while being escorted to a patrol car.
After a phone call Liev said he needed some time to think.
"We need to head back to Manukau now. Was there anything you wanted to say?" Grove asked Liev.
"Maybe," was the reply.
When Liev arrived at the South Auckland station he began to talk again.
"Are you willing to talk on DVD about what you know?" Grove asked.
"Not on DVD, I know, but please not on DVD. It was Swazi, he had a beef with Nui, she owed him, her and Wah owed him and he was not happy with them," Liev said.
"No, please no, not on DVD. Let me go and find out. I can go, I can ask people and find out," he said.
"I need you to talk about what you know about what happened to Nui," the officer replied.
"I know nothing," Liev said.
"I need you to explain these text messages and other people's statements," Grove said.
"I need to take some photos of you and then I need to get you through to the custody unit," he said.
"One more smoke?" replied Liev.
"We don't have any time and you don't have any left," said the officer.
At 4.15pm Cambo Jack was transported to the district custody unit for processing.
Despite a comprehensive and thorough police investigation it remains undetermined exactly why Liev had Prutsiriporn kidnapped.
Along with members of the ghost unit, Liev was sentenced to prison today by Justice Matthew Palmer in the High Court at Auckland .
Liev, who has five previous convictions for violence and drugs, asked the court for forgiveness in a letter.
He described the kidnapping as an "outrageous incident".
The defendants: Liev, the ghost unit and others
• Seng Lek Liev - 12 years and four months for manslaughter and kidnapping
• Aphichart Korhomklang - 10 years and eight months for manslaughter and kidnapping
• Luigi Havea - 10 years and three months for manslaughter and kidnapping
• Tafito Masi Vaifale - Seven years and 10 months for manslaughter and earlier pleading guilty to kidnapping
• Joseph Benjamin Haurua - Six years and six months for manslaughter and earlier pleading guilty to kidnapping
• Tevita Matangi Fangupo - not guilty of kidnapping