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How the police sprung a ‘Mr Big’ undercover sting to snare a murderer, and what we can’t say about it

Kamal Reddy is going to jail following the successful use of the controversial ‘Crime Scenario Undercover Technique’. What does our highest court have to say about its use? Sorry, you’re not allowed to know that yet, writes Andrew Geddis

Kamal Reddy is an undeniably bad man. Last month a jury decided that, back in late 2006 or early 2007, he strangled his ex-partner Pakeeza Yusuf with the cord of an iron before smothering Ms Yusuf’s three-year-old daughter, Juwairiyah “Jojo” Kalim, with a pillow. Two awful murders that have earned him a life sentence with a minimum of 21 years behind bars.

But why is he only going to jail for these murders now, nearly a decade later? Well, after the killings Reddy buried his ex-wife and child under the Takapuna overbridge in Auckland’s North Shore. There they lay for six years, until Ms Yusuf’s mother finally grew concerned enough about her daughter’s silence to report her disappearance to the police. But with no bodies, a suspect who wouldn’t confess and a trail gone six years cold, what could the police do?

Kamal Reddy

Kamal Reddy

Until now we could only answer that question in the most circumspect of ways, using the most general of hints. The High Court suppressed almost all discussion of the police operation mounted to obtain Reddy’s confession on the basis that if it were talked about, then it would tip off other suspected criminals and the police wouldn’t be able to use it again. As that suppression order now has been lifted, I can explain in more detail the considerable lengths the police went to in order to get their man – as well as why their methods are potentially problematic.

To obtain Reddy’s confession, the police unpacked their “Crime Scenario Undercover Technique”; or, as it’s better known overseas, ran a “Mr Big” sting on him. In essence, the police tricked Reddy into thinking he was joining a criminal syndicate by infiltrating an undercover officer into his life who then involved him in a series of (sham) criminal offences for which he was paid small amounts of money. These “offences” brought him into contact with a number of other undercover police officers playing a range of roles connected with the “syndicate” and took him to various parts of New Zealand, including down to Queenstown for a holiday/apparent drug deal. One of the characters in this performance was an apparently corrupt cop, whom Reddy was led to believe could make any legal problems of the syndicate’s members disappear.

Following a period of initiation into this “syndicate”, Reddy was told that in order to join it as a full member he would have to pass an interview with its “Mr Big”. At that interview, Reddy was cajoled (but not compelled) into divulging what had happened to his wife and daughter on the grounds that without full disclosure of his past the syndicate could not trust him. He then took a fellow “syndicate member” to the place where he had buried the bodies. Having obtained Reddy’s confession on film and substantiated it with the victims’ remains, the police dropped the act and arrested him for murder. And at his subsequent trial the main prosecution witnesses were his fellow “syndicate members”, telling the jury just how they had conned Reddy into implicating himself for the crimes.

The precise details of this Mr Big sting against Reddy are pretty impressive, playing out like a script by David Mamet (I’m thinking House of Games or The Spanish Prisoner). And he’s not alone in being foxed by it. In filings to the court, the police stated that the technique has run “approximately seven” other times since the late 2000s, but only for really serious offending and with sign-off at the highest level. They also told the court that no such operations are in play at the moment; so publicly talking about the method won’t put any current investigations at risk.

While the Reddy case has shone the spotlight on it, the use of “Mr Big” in New Zealand isn’t entirely new news. You can read judicial discussion of one of the past police stings in the case of R v Cameron, involving the cold-case murder of Balwinder “Babu” Singh. You can also read descriptions of how Canadian and Australian police have been using the technique for years — the Canadians in particular have really taken to it with gusto. In one of their operations against a Mr Cheeseman, for example, “over 50 undercover police officers were involved in the charade which included strippers, lap dances, [and] two officers naked in bed together …” And Supreme Court Justice Susan Glazebrook gave a lengthy speech on the issue just last year.

However, somewhat annoyingly, I can’t tell you what the New Zealand Supreme Court might have said about the use of this investigative technique. It is annoying because, as Justice Glazebrook noted in the speech just referred to:

Both in the caselaw and the literature on Mr Big operations, a number of concerns have been raised with the technique. The main concern is with reliability and the spectre of false confessions. But there have also been issues raised about the legitimacy of state action that effectively coerces a suspect into confessing, particularly if that involves oppressive conduct or the subversion of rights accorded to suspects. There have been more general concerns expressed as to the technique, involving as it does fake criminal activity. The prejudicial effect at trial of evidence showing often enthusiastic involvement in criminal activity has also been pointed to as of concern.

After all, how much can you trust a confession made to “criminals” as the apparent price for gaining entry to their “syndicate”? Because while the interview with “Mr Big” doesn’t involve any coercion or threats, the message sent at it is pretty clear. The syndicate thinks the evidence shows you did the crime, and Mr Big doesn’t believe you if you try to deny it. So why not “confess” to the accusation, seeing as it is what Mr Big seems to expect you to say?

For as Teina Pora’s case so amply demonstrates, people can and will say the most obviously false, self-incriminating things to police officers in formal interview settings, where the potential consequences of their statements are pretty dire. Isn’t the risk that someone will falsely put their hand up for something they didn’t do then a whole lot higher where the audience (apparently) is a group of fellow criminals who won’t punish you for what you claim to have done, but might let you be a part of their (lucrative) criminal gang if you claim guilt? How “against interest”, and thus believable, is such a confession in such circumstances?

(Admittedly, the risk a confession is false is much reduced in a case like Reddy’s, where its veracity is backed up with tangible evidence like the location of the victims’ bodies. But what about cases, again like Teina Pora’s, where the “confession” is basically the central plank of the case against the accused?)

So, you might now be wondering, given that the New Zealand police have been using their “Crime Scenario Undercover Technique” for a number of years over a number of cases, and that serious questions exist as to its trustworthiness, surely our Supreme Court has had a look at the matter? To which I can only say, you might very well wonder that, I could not possibly comment.

No, really. For now, I can’t say anything about that final matter. At all.

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