A police recruit partied with an Australian motorcycle gang and was filmed taking drugs with them – with the compromising footage leaving his superiors in no doubt it was intended to blackmail him for future favours.
The rookie had met members of the Comancheros gang while socialising with a friend one evening and got “carried away”, according to one source, perhaps in a clumsy attempt to cultivate them as informants.
Instead, his naivety led to him being groomed as a potential “inside man” for the gang.
Drinking in downtown Auckland bars led to a party in a hotel room, where the police recruit accepted an offer to snort a line of white powder.
Patched members and associates of the Comancheros, accompanied by women, can be seen in the hotel room in the background of the video.
While there was no evidence of pressure being placed on the recruit yet, multiple police sources say there is no doubt the video would have been used in the future.
Its existence was discovered during a police investigation into the Comancheros gang and the young man was dismissed from Police College, just weeks before graduation.
Although New Zealand has a reputation as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, the incriminating video is the latest in a string of incidents which show law enforcement and the business sector cannot be complacent about the threat of organised crime.
• In December last year
• In May, a group of Air New Zealand baggage handlers were arrested for allegedly helping someone avoid border security checks and smuggle drugs into the country during the Covid lockdown;
• In June, a supervisor at the Ports of Auckland was sentenced after a shipping container flagged for inspection disappeared from the wharves on the back of the truck in the middle of the night. The container was linked to the Mongols gang and $90,000 was found in a shoebox at the port supervisor’s home.
With millions of dollars to be made from the methamphetamine trade in New Zealand, police and Customs have long warned of the risk of bribery and corruption among law enforcement.
However, the recent arrival of gangs such as the Comancheros and Mongols from Australia has accelerated the need for greater vigilance.
“This kind of corruption is not unheard of internationally but New Zealand has been isolated from it for a long time,” Bruce Berry, the head of investigations for Customs told the Herald in September when discussing the shipping container that vanished.
“Now, we’ve been thrust into this space very quickly with the arrival of the ‘501s’, with their greater sophistication and international connections. It’s a scary story.”
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“501s” are deportees from Australia, nicknamed after the section of the immigration law used to remove them on character grounds.
Among the thousands forcibly evicted to New Zealand over the past five years are dozens of members of Australian gangs such as the Mongols, Comancheros, Bandidos and the Rebels.
Although a small fraction of the “501” deportees, Kiwi law enforcement agencies believe these new gangs have a disproportionate influence on the criminal underworld because of their international organised crime links and sophisticated techniques, including use of encrypted phones.
Police Association president Chris Cahill could not comment specifically on the police rookie caught on camera with the Comancheros.
But speaking more generally, Cahill said it was no surprise the Australian motorcycle gangs were trying to corrupt police staff in New Zealand.
“We don’t have a history of systemic corruption within the police, or the judiciary, or politicians like some other countries. But we can’t be naive to that,” said Cahill.
“For us as an organisation, it’s about educating staff so we can protect ourselves and identify when we are being targeted because the last thing we want is a corruption scandal.”
In response to the potential corrupting influence of the Australian newcomers, the police established a National Integrity Unit earlier this year to investigate links between officers and gang members.
Detective Superintendent Iain Chapman, who oversees the integrity division, could not comment on the case of the video footage of the police recruit consuming drugs with the Comancheros.
But speaking generally, he said the establishment of the integrity unit was an acknowledgment of the changing climate of organised crime in New Zealand.
“The deportees are bringing a different mindset. They need people like police officers, officials in other government agencies, to enable them to conduct business.
“So we’ll investigate those links, but we’re educating our staff so they can be aware of the risks and protect themselves.”
An organised crime figure approaching a police officer with an intent to corrupt them is never obvious, said Chapman.
“It’s subtle, friendly, discreet. No one wakes up in the morning deciding to be corrupt … it’s a slow burn, and we have to make our staff aware of what that looks like.”
Close scrutiny of family ties during the vetting of police recruits is crucial.
The Herald last year revealed the daughter of a senior Hells Angel was recruited into Police College, then suspended a few weeks before graduation.
She declared the relationship but claimed to be estranged from her father. There is no suggestion she was a “plant” to gather intelligence for the motorcycle gang.
But there are understandable concerns about any family ties or close links between organised crime figures and police officers, who can access sensitive data and intelligence.
Even if the friendship or family relationship involving a police officer is currently estranged, there can be a potential risk of compromise in the future.
Speaking generally about the issue, Chapman said having family ties to gang members would not necessarily end a recruit’s chances of joining the police.
“It requires some really honest, open conversations about how we manage that risk. Some applicants disclose the relationship but downplay it, distance themselves from that person, but they’re actually still close.
“In the absence of telling the truth, we draw the inference they’ve got something to hide.”
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