Govt wants to go after gangs for benefit fraud

The Minister for Police is considering targeting gang members committing benefit fraud, in a bid to "go after" them in whatever way he can.

"This is Al Capone and getting him for tax evasion. If we can't get them for the crimes we know they're committing, let's investigate them for benefit fraud. Let's find a way to get these gangs," Stuart Nash told Newshub Nation on Saturday. "We will use whatever we can."

Ninety percent of gang members have been on a benefit for an average of nine years, according to research from the Ministry of Social Development.

Mr Nash gave the example of a Headhunters gang leader who had six houses, Harley Davidson motorbikes, cars and cash taken off him.

"He hasn't been convicted of anything to do with his gang affiliations. But he is being investigated for benefit fraud. He may well go down for benefit fraud."

There's no "silver bullet" answer, Mr Nash says, but taking away the "sexiness" of being in a gang, "in particular [for] women and children", will make it easier for them to choose to leave.

Seven thousand Kiwi children live in gang-connected families.

"There is another way. We want to help them out of this.

"We've got the proceeds of crime - we've so far confiscated over $550 million. You can deprive someone of their freedom - we're also taking their assets and we're also taking their cash."

Mr Nash says the Government also wants to strengthen section 98A of the Crimes Act, which makes it illegal to be part of an organised criminal group, whether or not you actually commit the crimes yourself.

"That's sort of a... 'puppet master' clause in the Crimes Act which allows us to go after gang leaders who are an arm's length away from the minnows on the ground doing the bad things. The judges are a little bit strict on this interpretation, so we want to strengthen that so it allows us to go after the gang leaders.

The Government has pledged to "strive towards" adding an extra 1800 police officers. Mr Nash said 700 of them will join crime squads in gang-dominated areas.

"We're going to have the ability to go really hard against these guys. You can't go after gangs in Gisborne, Hastings, Napier and south if you've only got four dedicated officers to organised crime. If you increase that to 40, it completely changes the game.

"There's a new organised crime squad that's just started in Tauranga recently, and they've had their first big win. They smashed a gang that was dealing in synthetics. That has disrupted the synthetics' movement into Auckland and the lower North Island."

Newshub Nation.

Watch Newshub Nation 9:30am Saturday/10am Sunday on TV3, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Newshub Nation is supported by NZ On Air.