Po­lice net small fry in fish­ing case

Early-morn­ing raid on home in­volv­ing the AOS was ruled un­rea­son­able

The New Zealand Herald - - News - Phil Tay­lor

Only $35,000 of an al­leged quar­ter-mil­lion-dol­lar fish­ing quota fraud that cen­tred on torn doc­u­ments found in a sewer pipe has been clawed back. Fol­low­ing a fi­nal twist in the lon­grun­ning case, the Her­ald can re­port that the Po­lice Com­mis­sioner as­sessed that Auck­lan­der Brett Ed­wards prof­ited from il­le­gal fish deal­ing to the tune of $220,446.

The sum was sought by po­lice un­der the Crim­i­nal Pro­ceeds (Re­cov­ery) Act.

De­fence lawyer David Jones, QC, ar­gued the profit for­fei­ture fig­ure should re­main se­cret be­cause it was based on untested ev­i­dence but last week de­cided not to ap­peal a High Court rul­ing al­low­ing pub­li­ca­tion.

Ed­wards admit­ted three charges of buy­ing 720kg of pur­ported black mar­ket fish from un­der­cover fish­eries of­fi­cers in an early phase of Op­er­a­tion Par­tridge con­ducted by the Min­istry of Pri­mary In­dus­tries.

But the case is notable be­cause 100 charges laid later against Ed­wards and oth­ers claim­ing a sys­tem­atic rort of the quota sys­tem were dis­missed in May af­ter a rul­ing that an early- morn­ing raid on Ed­wards’ home in­volv­ing the Armed Of­fend­ers Squad was un­rea­son­able.

Seized dur­ing the raid was the ev­i­dence those charges and the al­leged pro­ceeds of crime fig­ure were based on — 23 pieces of pa­per with hand­writ­ten records re­trieved from a sewer breather pipe.

Also seized was $77,362 cash. Ed­wards said it was from the likes of bet­ting on a fam­ily race­horse and sales of golf balls and fire­wood but MPI sus­pected it was pro­ceeds of “large-scale fraud of the quota sys­tem” and did not re­turn it.

The cash later be­came sub­ject to a for­fei­ture ap­pli­ca­tion by the Po­lice Com­mis­sioner un­der The Crim­i­nal Pro­ceeds (Re­cov­ery) Act 2009. Though the sewer doc­u­ments case col­lapsed, un­der the act the onus is on Ed­wards to prove on the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties the as­sets are le­git­i­mate. Po­lice also sought to make a claim on a house owned by Ed­wards and his wife but found there was “no re­al­is­able eq­uity ul­ti­mately avail­able”. That left the cash.

Po­lice ac­cepted that $20,000 was won bet­ting on the fam­ily horse and ac­knowl­edged MPI ap­peared to have held onto the money un­law­fully for a time. “In the cir­cum­stances, the Com­mis­sioner is pre­pared to adopt a prag­matic stance and ef­fec­tively con­sent to the re­turn of $42,362,” the set­tle­ment en­dorsed by the court said.

That left $35,000 to be for­feited. The set­tle­ment was made with­out ad­mis­sion of li­a­bil­ity or wrong­do­ing by Ed­wards and with each party pay­ing their own costs.

The col­lapse in May of the sewer doc­u­ments case spelt the end of Op­er­a­tion Par­tridge which be­gan with a tip-off in 2012.

A sting op­er­a­tion re­sulted in a plea bar­gain and a sen­tence of five months’ home de­ten­tion plus com­mu­nity ser­vice for Ed­wards, while his busi­ness, Man­gere Bulk Seafoods Ltd, for­feited a chiller and a truck.

The sewer doc­u­ments charges came later and were met with a bid to stay the charges. Jones claimed bad faith and abuse of process be­cause MPI had in­di­cated the plea bar­gain would be the end of Op­er­a­tion Par­tridge.

MPI claimed pres­sure of other work de­layed anal­y­sis of the sewer doc­u­ments and main­tained the new charges were a sep­a­rate mat­ter.

Though the judge was crit­i­cal of MPI’s con­duct, a stay was not granted.

Jones suc­ceeded with a new le­gal bid ar­gu­ing the raid breached the Bill of Rights Act and the sewer pa­pers were in­ad­mis­si­ble.

In a de­ci­sion that sunk the pros­e­cu­tion, Dis­trict Court judge Anna Johns noted the early-morn­ing tim­ing, in­volve­ment of armed po­lice, ef­fec­tive de­ten­tion of fam­ily mem­bers and gen­eral in­tim­ida­tory and over­bear­ing tac­tics.

The last le­gal bat­tle was over re­port­ing.

The Her­ald was granted ac­cess to the full court file but on ap­peal the sewer pa­pers and MPI’s anal­y­sis of them were sup­pressed.

Jones also in­di­cated an ap­peal of Jus­tice Ti­mothy Brewer’s de­ci­sion to al­low pub­li­ca­tion of the $220,446 profit for­fei­ture fig­ure.

Jones last week told the court the ap­peal would not be pur­sued.

File photo / Brett Phibbs

Brett Ed­wards admit­ted three charges of buy­ing 720kg of pur­ported black mar­ket fish.

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