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Drug dealer stopped in car with cannabis and nearly $44,000 forfeits cash

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Police found $43,900 in bundles of $10, $20 and $50 notes in Georgina Riri’s care. File photo / NZME

A woman jobless since 2018 was found with $43,900 on her when stopped by police for speeding.

Georgina Turewa Riri was also carrying 880g of cannabis plant in the vehicle when she was pulled over on State Highway 1 at Wellsford, Auckland, in July last year.

Police searched her car without a warrant under the Search and Surveillance Act when they noticed “a strong smell of cannabis emanating from her vehicle”, a court judgment says.

They found the cannabis and the money – in bundles of $10, $20 and $50 notes – and seized them.

Riri later pleaded guilty to possessing cannabis for supply and was sentenced in March this year to 120 hours of community work, six months of community detention, and a year of supervision by a probation officer.

Riri has now made a deal with police under which she agreed to forfeit the cash found in the vehicle if they drop any claim on any other profits she has made from criminal activity.

That deal has now been approved by Justice Peter Andrew in the High Court at Auckland.

Justice Andrew’s decision, released this month, noted that Parliament had empowered the police commissioner to enter into such settlements regarding the forfeiture of assets.

He said that in doing so, lawmakers no doubt had in mind the “significant costs” involved in civil litigation involving asset forfeitures, and the benefit to everyone if they could be resolved by consent.

The forfeiture of Riri’s money was made under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009.

The Act is intended to deter people from committing crimes by separating the criminals from their ill-gotten gains.

Police first seize the assets – which can include jewellery, motor vehicles and even houses – and then apply to the courts to have them forfeited to the Crown.

In Riri’s case, police said that she had declared a “modest” net income over the past six years, derived solely from benefits paid by the Ministry of Social Development.

However, they said that the “unexplained” cash found in her car and other third-party deposits into her bank account supported their case that she had been making money from criminal activity.

“Ms Riri’s conviction is conclusive proof that she committed the offence of possession of cannabis for supply,” police told the High Court.

Justice Andrew said that the police had “a strong case to show that the cash is tainted property” and ordered its forfeiture.

He said police inquiries had not revealed any other significant assets that could have been subject to a forfeiture order.

Ric Stevens spent many years working for the former New Zealand Press Association news agency, including as a political reporter at Parliament, before holding senior positions at various daily newspapers. He joined NZME’s Open Justice team in 2022 and is based in Hawke’s Bay. His writing in the crime and justice sphere is informed by four years of front-line experience as a probation officer.

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