Major international bust snares Kiwi gangs as mobsters across globe tricked by FBI AN0M trojan horse app

Thirty-five people have been arrested, 900 charges laid and $3.7 million in assets seized during a major police operation targeting organised crime in New Zealand.

It was part of an international operation seeking to take down organised crime groups. Raids have taken place across the globe, including in the United States, Europe and Australia, netting millions in assets and seeing hundreds of people arrested.

Part of the operation saw mobsters tricked into communicating on an application operated by the FBI. While the gangsters thought their conversations about alleged murder plots and drug crimes were secret, in reality, they were being watched by authorities.

Internationally, the action is referred to as Operation Trojan Shield. The New Zealand specific actions are referred to as Operation Spyglass. 

These live updates have finished.

6:20pm - Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom president Sonny Fatupaito says that he and his organisation have "zero tolerance" for the importation, selling, supply, and possession of methamphetamine, MDMA, and cocaine after today's arrests.

"My continued focus as a leader is to influence, educate and empower our members to choose to live positive, constructive, and productive lives free from alcohol and drugs, and steer them in a direction away from criminal offending," he says.

Fatupaito says his home and the Irondog Headquarters weren't subject to searches and he wasn't detained for questioning. He adds there was clear "targeting" by police and media, which he believes is "obvious intimidation and payback for recent Mongrel Mob Kingdom protests against biases and racism in the Waikato and NZ police".

"[This is] as well as the Mongrel Mob Kingdom's role in highlighting how the NZ Police were embarrassed with the preferential treatment given to a privileged white politicians two death threats, compared to ignoring multiple death threats to Māori MPs and the genocide of Māori throughout NZ."

Fatupaito says he wants Mongrel Mob Kingdom members, associates, and supporters to remain calm and cooperate, no matter how much they want to react.

"The power of resistance is at best when showing nothing will provoke you to resist physically or verbally. Be proud of who you are and walk in dignity even when the State attempts to hurt or humiliated you, or your rights have been ignored or trampled on."

He adds the three members that were arrested are all innocent until proven guilty and the trio are "facing allegations".

5:45pm - The National Party's Police spokesperson, Simeon Brown, has disagreed with the Prime Minister's comments on the bust.

Jacinda Ardern said earlier the bust is significant, and also mentioned that as a Government, they have invested in having extra investigators in the organised crime space.

Brown says the Government promised 700 new police officers over three years focussed on organised crime, but it has so far only delivered 242.

"If the Government had delivered on its promise - the Police would have significant more capability to crack down on gangs," he tweeted.

4:25pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says today's busts are significant.

"If you just look at the numbers, the amount that has been confiscated as part of that, the number of arrests of quite senior gang members, you can see that its scale is significant," she told reporters during her post-Cabinet press conference.

"One of the points I know police have made is that, increasingly, organised crime has an international element to it, and that's why as a Government we have invested in insuring we have those extra investigators working in the organised crime space, and I'd like to think the results of today is testament that that was a wise investment."

She believes the bust will "no doubt" have an impact on organised crime in New Zealand, given the number of search warrants, charges, and arrests.

3:40pm - The Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom's public relations liaison Louise Hutchinson has hit out at National MP Simeon Brown's "propaganda" he is spinning.

Earlier, Brown responded to Hutchinson's claims of a "smear campaign" by police, saying: "When gangs are hiring PR people to try to portray themselves as something different, you know that there is a problem. There are over 8000 gang members in New Zealand. They perpetuate violence, they sell meth and they have illegal firearms."

Hutchinson has now replied to him, saying she is helping drive the kaupapa of the Waikato Mongrel Mob.

"@SimeonBrownMP the propaganda you spin from your privileged platform! I'm not hired, I'm a volunteer, and we will continue to drive our kaupapa here in the Waikato of zero tolerance to methamphetamine!"

Major international bust snares Kiwi gangs as mobsters across globe tricked by FBI AN0M trojan horse app
Photo credit: Twitter / @louhutchinson13

3:05pm - Police Minister Poto Williams says the major bust will make a "significant dent" in drug harm and violent offending linked to organised crime networks.

"I want to take an opportunity to congratulate the Police for their role in Operation Trojan Shield. This Government is very clear that violent gangs and other criminals cannot continue to threaten, intimidate, and exploit our communities. Operation Trojan Shield highlights our commitment to disrupting organised crime and will have a major impact on organised crime syndicates in New Zealand and across the globe," she says.

"This Government has made it very clear - we will not tolerate organised crime and gangs. Just last month we announced our intention to amend the Proceeds of Crime legislation to ensure that those involved in organised crime would have to demonstrate their assets were obtained through legitimate means. If they can't, their assets will be seized."

Williams adds the crackdown will help make New Zealanders safer by tackling the sale and supply of illcit drugs, firearm offences, and money laundering.

"Through Operation Trojan Shield - more than 300 officers executed 37 search warrants across the North Island. Illegal firearms, methamphetamine, cannabis, and more than an estimated $1 million in cash has also been recovered. Police have also arrested 35 individuals and laid over 900 charges," she says.

"This international operation, led by the FBI and co-ordinated with the DEA, AFP, Europol and numerous other law enforcement partners from more than a dozen countries, is testament to the hard work of Police officers and the relationships they have built with their international colleagues."

2:20pm - New Zealand Police National Organised Crime Group Director Detective Superintendent Greg Williams and Dana McDonald, Group Manager of Intelligence and Investigations Enforcement at NZ Customs provided the update to media on Tuesday.

"We believe the termination of these operations will have a significant impact on New Zealand’s organised crime scene," Williams said.

"This is one of the most sophisticated law enforcement operations in the global fight against organised crime.

"It takes years to build these networks. Large-scale operations of this nature create enormous disruption and paranoia within organised crime groups because it breakdowns their communication channels that they use to evade law enforcement detection."

Greg Williams.
Greg Williams. Photo credit: Getty Images.
Dana McDonald.
Dana McDonald. Photo credit: Getty Images.

2pm - The Police Commissioner says he is "exceptionally proud" of police staff involved in the operation.

"This will have an unprecedented impact on organised crime syndicates across the globe."

1:10pm - Brown has elaborated on his tweet, telling Newshub that it is clear "New Zealand has a gang and organised crime problem".

"What the police have done today is take a necessary action to address this issue. But the reality is, we need to see more of this," he says.

"The police and the Government should not be coddling up to the gangs. We need to be making sure the police have the tools they need to arrest them and hold them to account for what they are doing and the harm they are doing in our community."

He says the Government needs to give police more resources to do their jobs and also hire more officers targeting organised crime.

Brown also responded to Hutchinson's claims of a "smear campaign".

"When gangs are hiring PR people to try to portray themselves as something different, you know that there is a problem. There are over 8000 gang members in New Zealand. They perpetuate violence, they sell meth and they have illegal firearms. "

12:30pm - National's Police spokesperson Simeon Brown is welcoming the arrests of gang members. 

"I was right. The Govt should not be coddling up to the gangs. Great work @nzpolice."

12:15pm - The Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom's public relations liaison Louise Hutchinson has tweeted, calling the police announcement is a "total smear campaign".

"Lol do you seriously believe all the bullshit that the @nzpolice @NZPCommissioner spin about the Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom this is a total smear campaign driven by the NZ Police, politicians and mainstream media!"

Police say "senior members of the Waikato Comancheros, Waikato Mongrel Mob and Head Hunters were arrested" as part of the sting.

Under Operation Equinox, it's alleged Waikato Comancheros and Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom members worked with offshore entities to import large quantities of methamphetamine and MDMA for distribution across New Zealand.

A full statement from the Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom is expected later on Tuesday.

Major international bust snares Kiwi gangs as mobsters across globe tricked by FBI AN0M trojan horse app

12:10pm - Here are photos taken by New Zealand police during the operation. 

Major international bust snares Kiwi gangs as mobsters across globe tricked by FBI AN0M trojan horse app
Photo credit: Police
Major international bust snares Kiwi gangs as mobsters across globe tricked by FBI AN0M trojan horse app
Photo credit: Police.
Major international bust snares Kiwi gangs as mobsters across globe tricked by FBI AN0M trojan horse app
Photo credit: Police.

12pm - It's understood that authorities in Europe will provide an update at about 10pm (NZT) and the FBI at about 4am on Wednesday morning (NZT).

11:55am - The ACT Party has reacted to the major crime bust.

"Thank goodness the FBI is cracking down on New Zealand gangs since our Government has gone soft on them," ACT’s Justice spokesperson Nicole McKee said.

"It took a major international operation to lead to 25 arrests and 900 charges. Operation Trojan Shield was led by the FBI and co-ordinated with the DEA, AFP and Europol and other law enforcement agencies."

ACT congratulated the NZ Police and Customs for working with international agencies and acting on this information. 

"ACT would hit the gangs where it hurts, in their pockets. Our policy increases the power of police to seize assets connected with gang activity and illegal firearms owned by gang members by introducing a new threshold for Police to seize assets.

"The threshold to seize assets would now be triggered if a gang member was found with an illegal firearm therefore committing an offence.

"If we don’t stand up to the gangs now, it’s only a matter of time before an innocent member of the public gets caught in the crossfire."

11:50am - Here are the key details from the Australian police: 

  • Operation Ironside has led to the arrest of 224 offenders on 526 charges in every mainland Australian state.
  • 3.7 tonnes of drugs, 104 number of weapons, $44,934,457 million in cash, and assets expected to run into the millions of dollars, have been seized under Operation Ironside since 2018.
  • The AFP also acted on 20 threats to kill, potentially saving the lives of a significant number of innocent bystanders, with intelligence referred to state police agencies which took immediate action.
  • More than 4000 Australian police members were involved in the operation

11:45am - Scott Morrison calls the operation a "watershed moment" for Australian law enforcement. He says police have taken a major hit at organised crime. Despite other disasters, the Australian Prime Minister says the government has never taken its eye off crime or gangs.

He says Operation Ironside is ongoing and targets those who "peddle in human misery".

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrew says Australians should be very proud of their local police officers. 

11:30am - Australian authorities are about to provide an update. It's understood Prime Minister Scott Morrison may be present.

11:20am - In New Zealand, the overarching Operation is referred to as Operation Spyglass. Within that, there are three Operations - Van, Equinox, and Seltos. Operation Trojan Shield is the operation led by the FBI and co-ordinated with other international groups.  

Van was launched in 2018 targeting transnational organised crime group linked to the Comancheros. The group allegedly planned to import huge quantities of meth and cocaine by way of small crafts into New Zealand. But this shipment never made it to New Zealand.

About 136kg of meth was seized from a storage unit in Rotorua in August 2019 that was linked to this syndicate as part of this operation. The group is also alleged to have used money laundering networks to move money offshore. 

Equinox targeted Waikato Comancheros and Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom mebers. They are alleged to have worked with offshore entities to import large quantities of meth and MDMA which was distributed across New Zealand.

Seltos centred on a group of Head Hunters based in Auckland. They are alleged to have been dealing with large amounts of meth.

Trojan Horse - the international operation - targeted 300 criminal networks and intercepted 27 million messages. New Zealand became involved in January 2020. In March 2018, the FBI dismantled encryption service Phantom Secure, and then Sky Global in March 2021.

This created a void, leading criminal users to move on to AN0M, an application operated by the FBI. FBI agents could then watch communications on this platform, providing an opportunity to disrupt major drug trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activity.

11:15am - Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says he is "exceptionally proud" of NZ Police staff who supported Operation Trojan Shield. He says this will "have an unprecedented impact on organised crime syndicates across the globe".

He values New Zealand's relationship with the FBI, AFP and Europol.

"This is a fantastic result and reiterates the importance of our transnational partnerships with law enforcement agencies across the globe in our common ongoing efforts to dismantle organised crime groups and the enourmous harm they cause to our communities."

There were 57 AN0M-linked devices being used in New Zealand. The people on this network had to be introduced to it through organised crime groups. 

More search warrants will be carried out over the coming weeks, Det Supt Williams says. He believes more than 1000 charges will be laid overall.

11:10am - Waikato Comancheros and Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom members are alleged to have worked with offshore entities to import large quantities of meth and MDMA for distribution in NZ. Head Hunters members are alleged to have dealt large amounts of meth.

Operation Trojan Shield was led by the FBI and co-ordinated with the DEA, AFP and Europol and other law enforcement agencies. NZ Police began working with the FBI on this in January 2020 to monitor the communications on the AN0M app.  They were monitoring platform users in Aotearoa.

11:05am - New Zealand Police have been involved in the "world's most sophisticated law enforcement action". Here are the key details of Operation Trojan Shield:

  • More than 300 officers terminated 37 search warrants across Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Auckland, Central and Wellington districts
  • There have been 25 arrests with over 900 charges laid
  • $3.7 million in assets seized
  • A total of 20 ounces of meth, large bags of cannabis, multiple kilograms of iodine, four firearms, 14 vehicles and over $1m in cash have been seized

Police began executing the search warrants on Monday afternoon. Those arrested are appearing in Auckland and Hamilton courts on Tuesday morning.

Among those arrested are members of the Waikato Comancheros, Waikato Mongrel Mob, Head Hunters. 

"These people are considered to be among key leaders of organised crime groups in New Zealand."

10:55am - We are minutes away from police's briefing on this operation. You will be able to watch it above soon.

10:35am - Australian authorities will hold a press conference at 11:30am (NZT). We will bring you those details as they come.

10:10am - In case you missed it, National Organised Crime Group Director Detective Superintendent Greg Williams will be providing a briefing to media at 11am regarding the operation.

Newshub will be livestreaming that press conference.

9:40am - Lyn Riesterer, the Mayor of Ōpōtiki, where there reportedly was a heavy police presence at a property overnight, has told Newshub she is only aware of the information in the media. 

"I would say that anything that is helping keep our communities safer from drugs I am very positive about. I understand that this is an international organised crime group that the police are looking at and I wish them all the luck in getting everybody who is involved in this.

"Anything that helps police rid us of any type of drugs or crime, organised crime, is a real plus as far as I am concerned."

9:15am - The sting in Australia is being described as the biggest ever in the southern hemisphere. Police in Australia say they have foiled 21 murder plots and uncovered the trafficking of billions of dollars worth of drugs into Australia. 

With the help of New Zealand police, 336 search warrants were carried out across Australia.

It's said that more than 100 people have been charged while 3366kg of drugs and $35.8m in cash has been seized. Police also confiscated 72 firearms and 1650 devices with the AN0M app on them.

It's expected the number of seizures will dramatically increase as raids continues. 

8:55am - New update from police:

"A number of people have been arrested and will be appearing in the Auckland District Court and Hamilton District Court this morning today in relation to this operation.

"They are facing a wide range of serious drug dealing and money laundering offences."

8:50am - How were the global mobsters snared by the FBI?

According to international media, members of criminal organisations were able to purchase devices with an application called AN0M pre-loaded onto them. The application was hidden behind a functional calculator icon and accessible through a password. A "duress pin" could be used to wipe the device.

The users had to pay a subscription fee, which was going directly to law enforcement.

While users thought their messages were protected, in reality, police were monitoring everything. Artificial intelligence would alert officers to specific words.

Police used a range of methods to uncover who the users were, including having surveillance teams eyeball users at a place they said they would be.

8:30am - Police told Newshub on Tuesday morning that officers "are executing a number of search warrants across the North Island, in Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Central and Wellington Districts in relation to a National Organised Crime Group operation".

There have been reports of a heavy police presence in a number of centres overnight, including in Opotiki on Monday night and in Auckland suburbs New Lynn and Pt England.

8:15am - According to the Associated Press, the European Union police agency is planning to hold a news conference about "a major law enforcement action against some of the world's foremost criminals" in more than a dozen countries.

"This operation is the most sophisticated effort to date in disrupting the activities of criminals operating from all four corners of the world," Europol said.

German authorities declined to link the raids to the FBI's AN0M app, but that there were "Currently criminal procedural measures in Germany but also in other countries around the world against people who are suspected of involvement in organised crime".

They said these efforts are "ongoing".

The FBI is involved in the global operation.
The FBI is involved in the global operation. Photo credit: Getty Images.

7:40am - Gangsters were tricked by an application operated by the FBI on which organised crime members allegedly planned executions, the importation of drugs, and money laundering. Those using the application - AN0M - were unaware police were monitoring their messages. 

News Corp media reports Australian police will allege that Australian media figures, bikies and members linked to South American drug cartels, Asian Triads and other global criminal syndicates have been exposed by the sting. 

The report says: "In Australia heavily armed tactical police drawn from across Australia and New Zealand carried out 336 search warrants across every mainland state".

Australian police allege they foiled 21 murder plots and uncovered the trafficking of billions of dollars worth of drugs.

It's believed to be the biggest blow to organised crime in the southern hemisphere.

"Today, Australia is a much safer country because of the extraordinary outcome under Operation Ironside,'' AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said, according to Australian media.

"It highlights how extraordinarily effective the AFP is when it works with local and global partners, and takes its fight against transnational organised crime offshore," he said.

According to Australian media, the plan was hatched by an Australian officer over beers with FBI agents in 2018. Police used criminal "influencers" to convince associates to use devices with AN0M on them, giving officers access to their messages. 

It's said that 11,000 people, including 1650 people in Australia, used the devices. 

"These criminal influencers put the AFP in the back pocket of hundreds of alleged offenders," Mr Kershaw said.

"Essentially, they have handcuffed each other by endorsing, trusting AN0M and openly communicating on it, not knowing we were watching the entire time."