Arrival of Comanchero, Mongols in New Zealand leading to Kiwis gangs 'upping their game', increasing crime - expert

A gang expert believes the arrival of Australian gangs like the Comanchero and Mongols in New Zealand has led to an escalation in crime.  

The Head Hunters, the Mongrel Mob, Hells Angels and Highway 61 are some home-grown gangs who've ruled Aotearoa for decades.  

But gang expert and investigative reporter Jared Savage argues Australian imports like the Mongols and Comancheros have brought a slicker, more professional edge and with it more drugs, shootings and corruption.  

In his new book, Gangster's Paradise, Savage puts the stark growth in organised crime down to the arrival of thousands of 501 deportees from Australia.

Savage told AM on Wednesday the arrival of the senior gang members has "supercharged" the escalation of drugs and crime in New Zealand. 

"They've come over here and established their own chapters of those established gangs which have much greater sort of international networking and connections. On the back of that, we've seen a huge upswing in drug importation," he said.  

"For many years, a kilogram of meth was a big deal. I vividly remember writing stories for the Herald about 10kg being a big deal. 2016 was a bit of a watershed moment, an eye-opener for New Zealand. There were 500kg come in, up through Ninety Mile Beach. That kind of freaked everybody out but since then, 500kg is almost regular." 

He believes this has led to New Zealand gangs "upping their game" and causing the escalation in crime that has been seen in New Zealand.  

"The most infamous is the Comancheros and the Mongols and that's led to an escalation with established gangs here because they're upping their game as well, so it kind of becomes a bit of a tit-for-tat," he said.  

Another downside with the arrival of the Australian gangs has been the increased exposure they've gained, Savage says. 

"What's happened with the Aussie groups coming in is that it has sort of opened the eyes of other international crime syndicates, Mexican cartels, South American cartels, South East Asian groups and they see New Zealand as a small but very lucrative market," he told AM.  

"So 1kg of meth in Mexico or China or Southeast Asia might be $1000. Here it's worth anywhere between $80,000 and $180,000, depending on the market at the time. So huge, lucrative amounts and so it's worth it for these big players overseas working hand in glove with the groups that we have here on the ground."  

New Zealand has recently attempted to crack down on gangs with Police trying seizures at ports and airports as well as gun control with the establishment of the gun registrar.  

But Savage isn't sure if gangs can actually be stopped. 

"If I knew that answer I would probably be a millionaire. We do need more enforcement. I think there's been a belated acknowledgement of that in recent times," he said.  

"The police do a great job at the upper level, the transnational organised crime, they do a very good job investigating those... where we can probably do better is the enforcement of the more overt public displays of intimidation in terms of big motorcycle convoys or we saw down in Ōpōtiki they caused a bit of trouble a while back."  

He believes the key to tackling gangs is getting on top of inequality first.  

"Even if you did manage to stop gangs and eradicate them, there are still going to be young men who have a bit of a hole in their lives and we need to look at look at what's going to be filling that," he said.  

"Whether or not it's sports groups, marae, church groups at a very young age, so unless you're tackling inequality, those bigger social issues, gangs are going to be part of our community and the social fabric."

Watch the full interview with Jared Savage in the video above.