14 Aug 2020

Comanchero arrests: Fonua pleads guilty to organised crime charges

1:44 pm on 14 August 2020

A man arrested after police raided the Comanchero motorcycle gang has admitted his role in an organised crime group.

(from left) Jarome Fonua, Tyson Daniels, Pasilika Naufahu, Connor Clausen appear in the Auckland district Court.

(from left) Jarome Fonua, Tyson Daniels, Pasilika Naufahu, Connor Clausen appear in the Auckland district Court. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Jarome Fonua, 26, appeared before Justice Fitzgerald in the High Court at Auckland this morning.

He was among a dozen people arrested after a series of raids across Auckland last April, which saw police seize $4 million worth of assets, including luxury cars, motorcycles and jewellery.

Fonua pleaded guilty this morning to participating in an organised crime group, money laundering and possession of methamphetamine.

Justice Fitzgerald convicted him and remanded him in custody for sentencing on 23 October.

The High Court building in Auckland was deserted today, bar the odd security guard and registrar, as most hearings went ahead virtually under Alert Level 3.

This morning's arraignment was partly-virtual with the defendant, Crown prosecutor and a journalist dialling into the courtroom while the judge, registar, defence lawyer and another journalist were physically present.

Courthouses in Auckland have implemented social distancing and hygiene measures under Alert Level 3.

Earlier this week, the Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann was forced to suspend jury trials in the city once again; implementing a 24-hour suspension of jury trials for the rest of the country.

The jury deliberating its verdicts in the case of former school teacher Benjamin Swann, accused of abusing six teenage boys, were among the jurors whose attendances were excused until Monday.

Swann's retrial was one of the first jury trials off the blocks after they were suspended for nearly five months during the first Alert Level 4 lockdown.

Courthouses all but shut their doors during the first lockdown; hearing priority proceedings only.

It meant nearly 50,000 hearings were adjourned in the District Court alone and an extra 500 jury trials on the books that had accumulated during the lockdown period.

The major disruption prompted concern from the legal profession about access to timely justice and inefficiencies in a system that was already backlogged before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government has since pulled $50 million from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund to ease this backlog.