Auckland cash drop: Police find no evidence of criminal offending in relation to panned event

Auckland cash drop: Police find no evidence of criminal offending in relation to panned event
Photo credit: John Murphy / Getty / Newshub

No evidence of criminal offending has been found in relation to a widely-panned cash drop of fake money held in Auckland last weekend, local police confirmed to Newshub.

In a statement on Tuesday, Auckland City Police Inspector Scott Gemmell said officers had reviewed complaints levelled at the disastrous promotional stunt, held by personal protective equipment (PPE) and work gear retailer, The Safety Warehouse, on Saturday afternoon.

The company has been subjected to heavy backlash after it promoted a cash drop of $100,000 out of gratitude for New Zealanders and their support throughout the COVID-19 crisis. However, attendees of the stunt were left bitterly disappointed when it was discovered that $5 notes distributed to the crowds were actually discount vouchers in disguise.

More than 1000 people congregated in Auckland's Aotea Square in the hopes of collecting some cash. Chaos quickly ensued as angry attendees tussled over the fake money, leading to violent outbreaks. A vehicle belonging to the company was damaged in the fracas and three employees were injured, one requiring hospitalisation. 

The following day, Levin man John Murphy called on The Safety Warehouse to cough up real cash for those who wasted time and money to attend the chaotic event. At the time of writing, Murphy's petition has amassed more than 850 signatures.

The Safety Warehouse has since faced widespread accusations of intentionally misleading the public, with Green Party MP Ricardo Menéndez slamming the company for giving false hope to people in need.

"People in need from across the region gathered, clearly hoping their hardship would be alleviated. There was a lot of upset and the situation became unsafe," he tweeted. "Some took time off work hoping to come here... This is a stink thing to do, particularly in times of economic hardship and unemployment."

Darryl Evans, the chief executive of Mangere Budgeting Services Trust, told Newshub that while The Safety Warehouse may have had "the best intentions", the idea was "awful".

"When you have basically nothing, you will believe whatever you read - and they did believe they were going to walk away with some money," he said on Monday.

"When you're desperate you'll almost go to any length."

Inspector Gemmell confirmed on Tuesday that "no evidence of criminal offending" has been identified in relation to the stunt.

"No evidence of criminal offending has been identified from the information received by Police in relation to the money drop," he said.

"Police will be forwarding these complaints to the Commerce Commission for further review."

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also called on the organisers of the $100,000 cash drop to apologise, saying the stunt had "caused harm". Her sentiment was echoed by Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark, who said the cash drop was "not something that looks very pretty".

"On the face of it, it looks pretty untidy," he told reporters. 

"Customers don't take this kind of thing well and I think that is quite understandable. It's always disappointing and perhaps a little bit foolish when people take their customers for granted."

In a statement on Sunday, The Safety Warehouse said the cash drop had been "unfairly characterised as an event with fake money" and that "real funds were given away as anticipated". 

"The vouchers that were also presented at the event were in addition to the cash that was given away. We never could have expected the inclusion of the vouchers would have created such hostility and a misunderstood narrative."

It said the actions of a small group ruined the "family-friendly" event for others and that there was no "intent to deprive, mislead or embarrass" anyone.