The waterfront property that comes with a gang boss

8:34 pm on 24 October 2022

By Tony Wall of Stuff

A warning sign greets visitors to the land which was seized by the Crown.

A warning sign greets visitors to the land which was seized by the Crown. Photo: Stuff / Christel Yardley

It must be the most difficult real estate listing in the country - gang-connected Bay of Plenty waterfront properties that - so far - no-one wants to buy.

It's a developer's dream: an idyllic spot on the Maketu estuary with views along the western Bay of Plenty coastline all the way to Mount Maunganui.

There's just one catch - the properties belonged to the town's Mongrel Mob president, Valentine "Pop" Nicholas, until the Crown controversially seized them under proceeds of crime legislation.

Nicholas and his wife do not recognise the Crown's authority to take the family land and have vowed to stay put even if there are moves to forcibly remove them.

"Inspections are not possible," said the listing on the Colliers website, in the only hint that there was anything unusual about the sale.

Two adjoining properties - 631 and 633 Maketu Rd - and one across the road - number 634 - have been for sale since April.

Naomi Bentley, manager of the criminal proceeds management unit of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said the initial sales period ended on 8 September, with no offers received.

They are now for sale "by negotiation".

According to property records, the waterfront block had a rateable value of $520,000 in 2019, while the one across the road was valued at $333,000.

Anyone who approaches the entrance to the main property, which includes a garage converted into a gym and a two-level home, is greeted by signs warning people they need "written consent, kai and koha" to enter.

The local hapū has "unqualified sovereign jurisdiction" over the land, the signs say, and kaitiaki (guardians) "reserve the ... right to remove any ... aliens at any time.

"All presumed claims of title or right in and over our whenua ... are not recognised and thus have no validity."

The properties as they appear on the Colliers website. The Crown seized the land under proceeds of crime legislation, but is having trouble selling it.

The properties as they appear on the Colliers website. The Crown seized the land under proceeds of crime legislation, but is having trouble selling it. Photo: Supplied / Colliers via Stuff

It is clear that whoever buys the property is also buying an almighty fight.

Colliers agent Roger Seavill​ admitted it had been a tough listing. There's been a "certain trepidation" amongst potential purchasers, he said.

Does that mean they're going cheap?

"Well that's the inference, yeah. The message I've been asked to give to the market ... is that these properties will be sold, so don't be shy.

"All I can do is get the best price under the circumstances."

Seavill said because inspections are not possible, the buyer would not have to settle until there was vacant possession, and the Official Assignee "will take whatever moves are necessary" to ensure the property is vacated.

When Nicholas was first served with an eviction notice in 2020, dozens of people - including gang members, activists, lawyers and politicians - descended on the land, vowing to stop the eviction, claiming it was Māori ancestral land.

Valentine "Pop" Nicholas does a hongi with a supporter after he was served with an eviction notice.

Valentine "Pop" Nicholas does a hongi with a supporter after he was served with an eviction notice. Photo: Stuff / Christel Yardley

"Anyone doing their research on the property will see that it's been described as another Ihumātao [land occupation]," Seavill said.

"My job as an agent is not to try and hide anything ... it is what it is, but ... there can be an opportunity for the right person."

He conceded Nicholas had a lot of support in Maketu.

"All I can say is, it's gone to the Māori Land Court and the [Court of Appeal] and the present occupants have yet to win the day legally. I guess you can say all avenues have been exhausted."

Nicholas declined to comment. His wife, Sheila, said: "We're not going anywhere."

Police accused Nicholas of making more than $1 million from selling cannabis in the early 2000s, which he denied, claiming that income declared by the Crown to be "unexplained" was actually the proceeds of gambling wins and trading of cars.

He was charged with money laundering - it was alleged he used the proceeds of cannabis sales to buy a forestry block near Gisborne.

Evidence was heard that the purchase involved $90,000 worth of $20 notes that smelled of cannabis, handed to a bank teller.

Nicholas and another man charged alongside him were both found not guilty at trial in 2015.

But using the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act, which has a lower threshold than criminal charges, police successfully applied for the forfeiture of property and assets worth more than $1m, which was the amount they claimed Nicholas made from criminal activity.

They seized the Maketu properties, which Nicholas had inherited, the forestry block, nine bank accounts containing $26,000, shares worth $14,000, motorbikes, cars and $8000 cash.

After failing to overturn the order in the High Court and Court of Appeal, Nicholas turned to the Māori Land Court for an urgent injunction, but the court said it did not have jurisdiction as it was general land, not Māori land.

Nicholas appealed to the Māori Appellate Court, arguing it should be considered Māori freehold land as it was converted to general land without the owners' consent, but the original decision was upheld.

The appellate court said in its ruling that Nicholas and his family had made "heartfelt submissions about the fairness of the Maketu lands being forfeited to the Crown, particularly when no criminal conviction has been entered.

"It is evident from the number of people who attended the hearing in support of the appeal that a significant section of the Maketu community shares these concerns.

"However, those are matters that neither this court nor the Māori Land Court can resolve. They are not within our jurisdiction."

Stuff revealed in 2018 that a police iwi liaison officer had got into hot water with her bosses for writing an opinion - later used by Nicholas in his appeals - that the land was Māori land.

Nicholas also ran into trouble with his banks. He owns the historic Maketu fish and chip shop, which was forced to go cash-only when ANZ said it would no longer offer him banking services.

Nicholas previously told Stuff the proceeds of crime legislation was "crazy".

"What they're basically saying is, 'the jury's wrong, and we're right, so we're gonna carry on anyway'.

"They say the onus is on you to prove where you got your stuff from. I told them, 'how do I prove a figment of your imagination?'"​

- This story was first published on Stuff.

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