Major international crime bust: New Zealand Police to deploy group targeting organised crime

New Zealand Police plan to deploy a specialised group to Waikato to target organised crime from next month. 

Following the international sting that saw criminals duped into using an encrypted messaging service the FBI had developed and were monitoring, Hamilton has been identified as a hub for organised crime.

Senior members of the Waikato Comancheros and the Waikato Mongrel Mob were among the 35 people arrested on Tuesday.

After a year of being duped, criminals using the AN0M app were starting to get suspicious, but the FBI monitoring their messages read the realisation in real-time. They pulled the trigger on Operation Trojan Shield before it backfired.

In doing so, not only had some of the world's most dangerous people been tricked into using the encrypted messaging service, but they were also unwittingly paying the FBI a subscription to use it.

"The very devices that the criminals used to hide their crimes were actually a beacon for law enforcement," says Randy Grossman, acting US attorney for the Southern District of California.

But one expert says there could be some nervous people out there who are yet to be found.

"When you have a big bust like this on devices that people assumed were safe, I suspect there will be a few more of them feeling nervous today," says Jarrod Gilbert, criminal justice senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury.

That includes Hakan Ayik. Undercover cops convinced the criminal kingpin to use AN0M and he then endorsed the app to hundreds of his associates.

Now, he's "probably" a marked man.

His former Comanchero comrade Kiwi Dax Ngakuru is also, so far, missing from the arrested.

"I think he's been on the run since 2010," Gilbert says. "I suspect the net will be tightening around him."

The global police dragnet has already swept up 800 people, eight tonnes of cocaine, more than 250 firearms, and over $200 million in cash and cryptocurrency.

"The amount of intelligence that we received was staggering," says Suzanne Turner, FBI special agent in charge of the San Diego Field Office.

That could prove to be the most significant seizure of all. 

"There are literally millions of messages that together will give us a really clear picture of how these organised crime networks operate," Gilbert says.

The app trap is already proving to be far more than a one-hit blunder for the world's underworld.