Only $35,000 of an alleged quarter-million-dollar fishing quota fraud that centred on torn documents found in a sewer pipe has been clawed back.
Following a final twist in the long-running case, the Herald can report that the Police Commissioner assessed that Aucklander Brett Edwards profited from illegal fish dealing to the tune of $220,446.
The sum was sought by police under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act.
Defence lawyer David Jones, QC, argued the profit forfeiture figure should remain secret because it was based on untested evidence but last week decided not to appeal a High Court ruling allowing publication.
Edwards admitted three charges of buying 720kg of purported black market fish from undercover fisheries officers in an early phase of Operation Partridge conducted by the Ministry of Primary Industries.
But the case is notable because 100 charges laid later against Edwards and others claiming a systematic rort of the quota system were dismissed in May after a ruling that an early-morning raid on Edwards' home involving the Armed Offenders Squad was unreasonable.
Seized during the raid was the evidence those charges and the alleged proceeds of crime figure were based on 23 pieces of paper with handwritten records retrieved from a sewer breather pipe.
Also seized was $77,362 cash.
Edwards said it was from the likes of betting on a family racehorse and sales of golf balls and firewood but MPI suspected it was proceeds of "large-scale fraud of the quota system" and did not return it.
The cash later became subject to a forfeiture application by the Police Commissioner under The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009. Though the sewer documents case collapsed, under the Act the onus is on Edwards to prove on the balance of probabilities the assets are legitimate.
Police also sought to make a claim on a house owned by Edwards and his wife but found there was "no realisable equity ultimately available".
That left the cash.
Police accepted that $20,000 was won betting on the family horse and acknowledged MPI appeared to have held onto the money unlawfully for a time.
"In the circumstances, the Commissioner is prepared to adopt a pragmatic stance and effectively consent to the return of $42,362," the settlement endorsed by the court said.
That left $35,000 to be forfeited.
The settlement was made without admission of liability or wrongdoing by Edwards and with each party paying their own costs.
The collapse in May of the sewer documents case spelt the end of Operation Partridge which began with a tip-off in 2012.
A sting operation resulted in a plea bargain and a sentence of five months' home detention plus community service for Edwards, while his business, Mangere Bulk Seafoods Ltd, forfeited a chiller and a truck.
The sewer documents charges came later and were met with a bid to stay the charges. Jones claimed bad faith and abuse of process because MPI had indicated the plea bargain would be the end of Operation Partridge.
MPI claimed pressure of other work delayed analysis of the sewer documents and maintained the new charges were a separate matter.
Though the judge was critical of MPI's conduct, a stay was not granted.
Jones succeeded with a new legal bid arguing the raid breached the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and the sewer papers were inadmissible.
In a decision that sunk the prosecution, District Court judge Anna Johns noted the early-morning timing, involvement of armed police, effective detention of family members and general intimidatory and overbearing tactics.
The last legal battle was over reporting.
The Herald was granted access to the full court file but on appeal the sewer papers and MPI's analysis of them were suppressed.
Jones also indicated an appeal of Justice Timothy Brewer's decision to allow publication of the $220,446 profit forfeiture figure.
The judge allowed a week for filing and commented, "I do not for one moment ascribe this to the respondents, but it is a common enough tactic … to file a notice of appeal, do nothing much to advance it, and outlast the attention of the news media before discontinuing the appeal."
Jones last week told the court the appeal would not be pursued.
MPI is standing by its investigation but acknowledges mistakes were made. It has introduced training on how to conduct raids.