Wednesday, December 09, 2015

A new target for asset forfeiture

So far, the targets of asset forfeiture have mostly been involved in drug dealing. But now police have discovered a lucrative new target: businesses who exploit migrants:

Police have frozen $34 million of assets linked to a well known Auckland-based restaurant chain - believed to be the most valuable cache of property targeted in a single case.


The police said on Monday that officers from its Northern Asset Recovery Unit had launched civil action against several companies associated with the operation of restaurants, which it did not name but said they were "well known" and based in Auckland.

It followed a joint investigation between Immigration NZ, the labour inspectorate, Inland Revenue and police.

While police won't name the target, if its the obvious one, then there have been convictions on a host of charges under the Minimum Wage Act, Holidays Act, and Immigration Act. But asset forfeiture wasn't imposed at sentencing (because if it was, the court would have had to treat it as a criminal punishment and reduce the sentence accordingly). Instead, they seem to be targeting them post-sentencing, and for far more than the few offences they were actually convicted of. The latter isn't necessarily untoward - there is such a thing as "representative charges" - but it runs the danger of people being punished for more than they are actually guilty of. And all enabled by a reverse burden of proof, reducing the burden on the police to actually prove their case.

While I'm glad to see asset forfeiture for once used against corporate criminals, the process is still fundamentally flawed. It allows people to be punished and robbed by the state essentially on suspicion, under Ahmed Zaoui standards of evidence. And with a heavy focus on settlements, the entire process gives the impression of a government shakedown rather than justice. The good news is that a $34 million business is a different kind of beast from your usual drug dealer, and can likely afford proper lawyers to contest this. Which may mean we see the BORA challenges this law has been crying out for.

While I want to see corporate criminals punished, it must be just and proportionate. This law is neither. And it needs to be repealed before it corrupts our justice system entirely.