Tuesday, February 18, 2020

This is unjust

The Herald reported over the weekend that an Auckland business owner is being targeted with asset forfeiture laws over a workplace death:

A workplace fatality has seen police use a law usually associated with drugs and organised crime to seize millions of dollars in assets from a business owner because of health and safety breaches.

The case is set for the High Court in Auckland next Wednesday and Ron Salter - who served home detention after the 2015 death - says he and wife Natalie stand to lose everything they have worked for over 38 years.

It is a first for legislation usually associated with gangs and the drugs trade. High Court documents show police have used the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act to legally restrain their family home in Auckland, along with family trusts, the family bach and waste fuel collection business Salters Cartage Ltd.

At risk are properties worth $8,125,000, according to government valuation, and the Salters' waste fuel recovery and recycling business that could triple the value of the restrained assets.

It follows the 2015 death of Jamey Lee Bowring, 24, at the Salters Cartage Ltd yard in Wiri, South Auckland. Bowring was welding on a 100,000-litre fuel tank when it exploded, throwing him about 100m.

This is unjust. Not because its being used against a white-collar criminal - crime is crime, and criminal profits are criminal profits whether they derive from drug dealing or systematically unsafe business practices (or fraud, or tax evasion, or wage-theft, or pollution, or any other form of rich-person crime; I'd like to see the law used more often against such criminals, subject to the constraints below). But the problem here is that Salter has been convicted and served his sentence. Coming after him three years after that seems to be a classic case of double jeopardy, and a violation of s26(2) BORA. Its a perfect example of why asset forfeiture should only happen on conviction, and as part of sentencing (as was typical pre-2009): because otherwise punishment never ends.