Criminal proceeds funds may not be utilised in time - police

Police said the funding has helped net some significant assets, but there have been some issues.
Police said the funding has helped net some significant assets, but there have been some issues. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ben Strang for RNZ

Police have admitted it may not be able to make use of money granted through the Criminal Proceeds Fund within the timeframe it had promised.

Several police projects have been funded through the contestable fund, which comes from money and assets which have been seized from criminals by police.

The Covert Operations Group was one police initiative to have secured funding but, in a six-monthly update to the Justice Minister Kris Faafoi sent in March, it said there is a chance the funding will not be fully utilised.

There are six projects that police have had funded during this most recent cycle, including $1.4m to the Covert Operations Group.

That money was supposed to help the targeting of large scale money launderers and people involved in significant drug dealing.

Police said the funding has helped net some significant assets, but there have been some issues.

"The environment is interchangeable, which may lead to funding not being fully utilised within the expected timeframes," the report said.

"Operational planning is ongoing, with any opportunities being identified and capitalised on through targeted activity."

RNZ asked police what it meant by an "interchangeable environment", and why the funding may not be used.

Assistant Commissioner Sue Schwalger said:

"Covert operations frequently operate in a dynamic changing environment necessitating rephasing of time frames and duration to termination."

Asked for further clarity, a spokesperson explained that police do not know how long any operation will last for, and so it is not possible to know when money will be spent for a certain operation.

Police will not say how much of the $1.4m funding has been spent thus far, but Schwalger said she believed it will all be spent by the end of June next year.

"Funding allocated in 2019/20 and 2020/21 has been utilised in a number of operationally sensitive operations," she said.

"The remainder of the funding will be used during the 2021/22 year as planned."

Schwalger said there is no concern with conflict of interest over police using Proceeds of Crime Funds to run their Covert Operations wing.

"On the contrary - directing Proceeds of Crime funding to preventing and deterring harm in communities by curbing the activities of those who directly cause that harm is an effective way to prevent further harm.

"Seizing the assets of organised criminals and other high end, high harm offenders through action under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 reduces their capacity to undertake their criminal activities and strips them of the material rewards they obtain from their criminal lifestyle.

"Putting some of that funding into activities target them directly is an entirely appropriate use of those funds."

She said there was no conflict of interest to manage for police in using the money from the fund.

"Police does not make the decisions about which projects receive funding.

"Those decisions are made by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Finance on the recommendations of an inter-agency panel chaired by the Ministry of Justice."