Comancheros trial: Police listened to gang's calls for months before raid, court told

6:56 pm on 9 September 2020

Police bugged cellphones belonging to members and associates of the Comancheros gang, listening live to calls almost a year before raiding the bikies in a major bust.

Comanchero Motorcycle Club president Pasilika Naufahu and a number of his associates and alleged associates have pleaded not guilty to drugs and money laundering charges.

Comancheros national president Pasilika Naufahu is among those facing charges in the Auckland High Court. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Five people, including the gang's New Zealand president Pasilika Naufahu, are on trial in the High Court at Auckland facing a combination of drug, money laundering and organised crime charges.

The Crown's case is that there was an organised money laundering operation involving a number of people, to disguise the true source of the group's wealth.

The jury was played an intercepted phone call, of a lawyer Andrew Simpson - who's already been convicted of money laundering - talking to another man about how to make deposits without raising any flags with the bank.

"You can put all the apples in the basket in one day if you do it, if you're putting in nine at each drop ... it's not going to get flagged, if you went to three drops and did nine at each, that's how it can quickly add up," the call said.

Anti-money laundering rules require banks to ask for ID and report cash transactions over $10,000.

The other man in the call isn't able to be identified. He's expected to give evidence later in the trial.

Nearly 500 pages of transcribed phone calls and text messages between various parties have been produced as evidence.

Detective Sergeant Damian Espinosa said police were granted surveillance warrants to bug several phones in 2018.

"As a cellphone call is made we can listen to it as it happens, real time. Essentially it's connected through a computer system, through to the telecommunications company, and when a call is made it comes up on our computer that there's an incoming or outgoing call being made, and then we listen," Espinosa said.

Lawyer Andrew Simpson appears for sentencing at the Auckland High Court.

Andrew Simpson Photo: RNZ / Jordan Bond

The Crown said the man Andrew Simpson was talking to and one of the defendants - a woman who has name suppression - then make a number of deposits into a trust account in Simpson's name.

"From your perspective if you went into any of the branches and said 'this is me, I just want to put this much into Andrew's trust account', they'll want to look at your driver's licence, but they'll happily take it if you're putting it into my trust account, they're not going to be worried," the call said.

"If it's under 10, they'll ask for your ID, but it's not going to get flagged."

The Crown said it had photos of the two at various branches of different bank companies over three consecutive days in July 2018.

Talking to Simpson again, the man said he and the defendant had deposited "40", and had plans to get to "50"; "100" is later mentioned in communications.

The woman is charged with laundering nearly $300,000, which she denies.

Later in the day, the court heard a phone call between the same man and another in Fiji, who also can't be identified.

In coded language, the two discuss some sort of exchange, and if the New Zealand-based man "wants to play in a bigger league" - the "world cup" - this is his chance.

The defence has not made its case yet. Five lawyers are acting for the five defendants, all of whom deny the various charges against them, including laundering, drug conspiracy and organised crime charges.

The trial, before Justice Lang, is set down for four weeks.

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