International police operation sees 35 arrests, 900 charges laid, $3.7m in assets seized

By Te Ao - Māori News

Members of the Waikato Comancheros, the Waikato Mongrel Mob and the Head Hunters have been arrested as part of the New Zealand end of a huge international crime sting, RNZ reports.

The sting is part of a global crackdown on organised crime, described by police as the “world’s most sophisticated law enforcement action.”

At a media conference earlier today, National Organised Crime Group director detective superintendent Greg Williams said police conducted 37 search warrants across the North Island as part of Operation Trojan Shield.

In the end, 35 people were arrested, with 900 charges laid, and $3.7 million in assets seized.

Those arrested have appeared in Auckland District Court and Hamilton District Court this morning on serious drug dealing and money laundering charges.

Police have also seized 20 ounces of methamphetamine, large bags of cannabis, many kilograms of iodine, four firearms, 14 vehicles including two marine vessels, a number of mobile phones and more than $1 million in cash.

More warrants were being conducted today and police expected more arrests.

More details are expected to be revealed throughout the day as the Australian Federal Police, Europol (European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) and the FBI hold media conferences as well.

Police seize multiple assets in Operation Trojan Shield. Source: Facebook/North Shore, Rodney & West Auckland Police

Australia in action

Across the Tasman, more than 200 people have been charged in connection to the international operation, this one named Operation Ironside.

Operation Ironside led to the arrest of 224 offenders on 526 charges across every mainland Australian state.

Australian Police said they had uncovered just over 20 murder plots, and seized more than 3000kg of illegal drugs, plus $48 million in assets, in the operation that secretly began three years ago.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described it as a watershed moment.

"Today, the Australian government, as part of a global operation, has struck a heavy blow against organised crime - not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world," Morrison said.

Those facing charges included members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian Mafia, Asian crime syndicates, and serious organised crime groups.

Operation Trojan shield

NZ Police said they had been working with the FBI in the United States on 'Operation Trojan Shield since January last year.

Police said the FBI created a closed encrypted company, ANOM, to monitor people's communications, and for 18 months the alleged offenders were unknowingly using the system to talk about their criminal behaviour.

The users believed their ANOM devices (57 devices in total) were protected from law enforcement by impenetrable encryption, police said.

Through this, detectives intercepted thousands of messages between organised crime groups.

"What we are actually talking about here is these transnational groups preying on our vulnerable communities," Williams said.

An FBI spokesperson said: "The innovative approach to Operation Trojan Shield should be a warning to criminals everywhere that collective law enforcement cooperation is no match for those criminals attempting to hide behind encrypted communications platforms.

"The FBI will continue to explore all avenues and work closely with our partners to bring those responsible to justice, wherever they may reside."