Sunday Star Times, New Zealand by Jarred Williamson 20 Aug 2017
Fifteen per cent of serious criminal charges in one of New Zealand’s busiest crime districts are not making the grade for prosecution double the national average.
Police in South Auckland are privately expressing concern that too many of their investigations are not making the cut for prosecution.
One of the Counties-Manukau cases that wasn’t pursued was a prosecution connected to the biggest cocaine importation bust in New Zealand history: 35kg stuffed inside a large diamanteencrusted horse sculpture A total of 105 files, out of a total of 676, were dismissed or withdrawn by the Manukau Crown prosecutor’s office last year.
By comparison, just 7 per cent of the Auckland Crown prosecutor’s 810 files were withdrawn or discharged. Whangarei had the lowest percentage overall with just under 3 per cent of its 239 files.
Nationwide, just 7.5 per cent of cases received by the Crown prosecutor were handed back to police without further action.
The figures were released to the Labour Party’s police spokesman, Stuart Nash, who said the high number of non-prosecutions at Manukau was “of concern”.
Nash said a police officer based in South Auckland had contacted him over the numbers.
“The guys are under-staffed and overworked,” he said. “They were frustrated with all the work being done on the files that was amounting to nothing.
“These are 105 files, and in some cases there has been up to two years’ work on them.”
In May 2016, police intercepted the cocaine-filled horse sculpture.
They charged two foreign nationals, Ronald Cook, a 54-year-old American, and 45-year-old Mexican Augustine Suarez-Juarez, with involvement in a “sophisticated international drug trafficking operation”.
The pair were found guilty by jury trial in June this year.
A third man, 30-year-old Gonzalo Rivera Pavon, was charged in July 2016. Pavon protested his innocence, and in May, just days before he was due to face trial, the Crown prosecutor announced all charges against him had been dropped.
His lawyer, Ron Mansfield, said at the time that Pavon was an innocent victim, who believed he was helping a legitimate business which could help him build a better life in New Zealand.
Nash said defence lawyers were aware of the higher rate of dismissals or withdrawals or charges in Manukau.
Both Manukau Crown Solicitor Natalie Walker and police were unable to comment on the figures by deadline.
In the last two Budgets, the Crown Law Office received $38.9 million for public prosecutions.