Thursday, June 28, 2018

A shakedown

Back in 2009 the government passed an asset forfeiture law, the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act. At the time, and during a previous attempt to introduce such a law in 2004, I warned that it would lead to US style practices and affect prosecution decisions, resulting in revenue being privileged over justice. And that is exactly what appears to have happened yesterday in the Assignments4U case.

Assignments4U sold ghostwritten essays to students at New Zealand universities. When they were exposed by the media in 2013, they were quickly shut down, but it was unclear whether the police would prosecute. And in the end, they didn't. Instead, they took action under the Criminal proceeds Recovery Act to seize the profits of this illegal business, and yesterday walked away with a settlement of $2.2 million, without any finding or admission of guilt. That's disturbing, but it gets worse. Because during the court hearings, the police accused Assignment4U of forgery and using false documents - serious crimes carrying a penalty of up to ten years imprisonment. And given the definition of a "false document" as one in which "the whole or any material part purports to be made by any person who did not make it" and the law of parties, ought to be very easy to prove. But the police have made no effort to prosecute those crimes, instead going after the money on a lower standard of evidence, seemingly in an effort to force a settlement and grab some revenue (which in the past would have gone straight back to them, creating what some would call "motive"). So, we have no conviction, no justice, and bunch of people who (as the judge noted) have been deprived of their property without the facts of the case ever being properly tested in court.

It looks like a shakedown, exactly the sort of behaviour I warned about here. And with the government setting a new target for the police to seize $500 million of assets under the law, we can expect to see more of it.