Organised Aussie gangs target Tauranga

Comanchero Australia gang patch
Comanchero Australia gang patch. Photo credit: Getty

Tauranga's elevation among New Zealand's major centres has reached another dubious milestone with the creation of a National Organised Crime Group in the Bay of Plenty.

NZME reports the specialised police task force has been established as part of a clamp-down on motorcycle gangs - specifically Australian gangs expanding their territories over the Tasman - and is the first such unit outside Auckland or Wellington.

In the 2013 census, Tauranga was our fifth-largest city with a population of 137,900 and one of the fastest growing, with an increase of more than 50,000 in less than 20 years. Earlier this year, an international study revealed Tauranga housing was more "severely unaffordable" than Auckland, requiring nine years' average household salary to buy a median-priced property.

But the emergence of previously Australian-based gangs in the region may be even more concerning, with members of the Comancheros and Bandidos recently making their presence felt.

Hundreds of these have been convicted of antisocial and violent crimes in Aussie courts and deported 'back home'. In reality, many have grown up in Australia and never lived in New Zealand, so they have no existing support network to fall back on.

Their gang affiliations offer them a lifeline that NZ Police is scrambling to contain. NZME reports 55 percent commit crimes within two years of their arrival on these shores.

Another January 2017 report predicted 200 Australian gang members, including convicted murderers and rapists, would be deported to New Zealand in the next two years.

The Comancheros are Australia's most notorious gang, but others that may consider expansion include the Lone Wolfs, Finks, Mongols, Notorious and Descendents.

"These deportees have the ability to change the face of organised crime in New Zealand," says Police Association president Chris Cahill.

"There hasn't been open hostility in New Zealand for a while, but there's only so much business to go around."

Tauranga is also New Zealand's busiest port and provides a ready pipeline for drug smuggling.

Police and Customs seized a record 46kg haul of cocaine, worth $20 million, there last November. Two Australians, a Croatian and a Serbian national were arrested.

"Tauranga is an area of growth for New Zealand and good people are setting themselves up in Tauranga," says Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers.

"Organised criminals are too. Being on their back doorstep is the right thing to do."   

According to NZME, the new organised crime group will be assisted by staff from the Asset Recovery Unit, and will target gang members through criminal and civil law  the latter carries a lower threshold of proof and hits offenders where they hurt.

"Taking money away from organised crime groups takes away the reason they exist," says Financial Crime Group head Iain Chapman.

"And it stops their empires from growing."