New police seizure powers: Government going after criminals, associates who hide illegally obtained wealth

The Government's going after criminals and their associates who try to hide illegally obtained wealth and assets.

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act will be amended to allow authorities to target associates of organised crime groups who hold assets they're unlikely to have been able to obtain legitimately. That includes luxury vehicles, boats, bikes and expensive clothing.

If it's suspected they couldn't have purchased their asset legally, they will be required to prove to a court how they came to possess it - or risk having it seized.

The law change, announced on Monday afternoon, is intended to stop criminals hiding their illegally obtained assets under the names of their associates. This would also make it harder for other individuals, like gang leaders, to benefit from crimes they have not directly participated in.

"Currently, organised criminals structure their affairs to avoid their illicit assets being restrained and forfeited," said Justice Minister Kiri Allan. "This is done by creating distance between themselves and the assets by putting property into associates' names."

Currently, police can seize property if it's proven the asset is derived from significant criminal activity, the person knew they were benefiting from criminal activity, or it was used during a crime.

The new amendment allows police to seize an asset if "the person is associated with an organised criminal group" and "they do not have sufficient legitimate property to acquire their assets".

The move was first signalled by former Police Minister Poto Williams and former Justice Minister Kris Faafoi way back in May 2021.

At the time, the ministers said they wanted to introduce powers to seize the assets of individuals associated with organised crime if the person's "known legitimate income is likely to have been insufficient to acquire the asset". 

Other measures announced on Monday afternoon include a new court order that will mean criminals overseas with assets in New Zealand risk losing them if they can't provide proof within two months that they obtained them legally. If they don't comply, it will be presumed the property came from criminal activity, though this can be argued against at a hearing.

Authorities will also be able to hold assets for longer than 28 days while a court considers whether to restrain them.

Money held within KiwiSaver schemes will become subject to civil forfeiture orders, making it harder for criminals to hide their illegal wealth within funds. The issue was highlighted by the Joanne Harrison case, after police were unable to withdraw money from her account to repay her fraud as the money could only go to the account holder.

"The steps taken today continue the Government’s multi-faceted approach to tackling the harm caused by gangs and other organised criminal groups," said Police Minister Chris Hipkins.

"This is the next step in the Government’s work to curb crime and make our communities safer. It will mean that not only do we have more frontline Police than ever before, they also have greater powers to hit gangs where it hurts."

A series of drive-by shootings this year has put pressure on the Government to respond to rising gang tensions. Monday's announcements follow a series of measures in July intended to make it easier for police to seize weapons during gang conflicts, impound vehicles, and take cash of more than $10,000 found in suspicious circumstances.

Hipkins on Monday said the Government is also working to put supports in communities to stop young people becoming involved in crime and gangs in the first place. Further measures on this are expected later in the week.