A transtasman power struggle in the underworld has led to a split within New Zealand's most powerful gang.
Senior members of the Hells Angels in Auckland and Wanganui left to start a new "Nomads" chapter shortly after the arrival of the Rebels motorcycle gang from Australia at the start of the year. The move is seen as an attempt by elements of the gang to regroup after a bad year in which they were infiltrated by police and caught unawares by their Australian rivals.
It was approved by the Hells Angels global hierarchy, with confirmation posted on the club's website almost immediately.
There are other Nomads chapters worldwide whose members are considered among the elite of the gang.
Influential Hells Angels such as Andrew "Ses" Sisson, the former sergeant-at-arms for the Auckland chapter, and Peter "Super" O'Connor, the former Wanganui president, are among the breakaway group. Nomads president Adam Riley is considered an emerging boxing talent who spars with Shane Cameron.
Police expect to see a united front at the motorcycle gang's annual Poker Run today, where up to 400 members, associates and supporters ride across Auckland to collect poker cards from different pubs.
The split from Wanganui and Auckland happened soon after the rival Rebels gang formed chapters in New Zealand and the Hells Angels, considered the most intelligent and disciplined in the underworld, were infiltrated by an undercover police officer.
A source with knowledge of the gang scene said the highly publicised arrival of the Rebels - a major player in Australia - had caught some New Zealand gangs napping. The Rebels patched over members of the Tribesmen and quickly established a presence in Northland, the Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Manawatu and now Christchurch. They also attracted the attention of police, who laid charges against members for methamphetamine supply and seized cars and motorcycles and $120,000 cash.
With the establishment of the Rebels, the formation of the Nomads chapter was seen as the Hells Angels "making their presence felt around town", said the source.
The gang has also been heavily targeted by police. In March it was revealed that a covert agent managed to join the Red Devils, a motorcycle gang in Nelson which planned to become a Hells Angels chapter. The agent gathered evidence which led to criminal charges against the 11 members of the feeder gang.
The entire group face methamphetamine and other drugs charges, and charges of conspiring to manufacture bombs, unlawful possession of firearms and being members of an organised criminal group.
Since then, the Organised and Financial Crime Agency has continued to disrupt the gang. International members coming to New Zealand to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Auckland chapter were stopped at the border in July, and firearms and debt-collecting charges were laid against four patched members in September. Charges of illegal deer-hunting were laid in November, with supporters outside court saying the case was police harassment.
At the time of the November arrests, Detective Inspector Grant Wormald made no apologies. "Our goal is to investigate the crimes they are committing and disrupt their activities to the extent that it's very hard for them to operate at all."
The Hells Angels
Internationally, the Hells Angels are one of the top three motorcycle gangs with up to 3500 patched members in 36 countries. The Auckland chapter was formed in 1961, the first outside the United States, and recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
December 2010Mt Eden pad raided and patched member charged with supplying methamphetamine in Napier. Harley-Davidson seized.
March 2011Undercover police officer infiltrates puppet-gang Red Devils in 18-month operation, leading to the entire group being charged with Class A, B and C drug offences, as well as bomb making.
July 2011Global members stopped from coming to New Zealand for 50th anniversary for Auckland chapter. Police knew of the party after seizing an email from the Mt Eden pad in the December search warrant.
September 2011Firearms and debt collecting charges laid against four patched members.
November 2011Illegal deer hunting charges for four patched members and five associates.