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NZ surveillance target attempts to flog tracking kit

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A New Zealand man under covert electronic surveillance by police turned the tables on his snoopers by attempting to sell tracking kit he found in his car.

Ralph Williams, of Cromwell in central Otago, discovered a pair of tracking devices hidden in his daughter's and flatmate's cars after both vehicles were seized by police as part of an investigation. Rather than throwing the tracking devices away in a fit of pique, Williams enterprisingly offered the kit for sale on Trade Me, a local listings site.

The cars were seized in July as part of an investigation into the arson of an unmarked police car, according to Williams. Nothing was found and both vehicles were returned to their owners. Williams contacted the police to complain that they were no longer running smoothly. After failing to get any explanation Williams searched the cars and discovered the GPS location devices, concealed behind panels in the passenger-side footwells of each car.

Williams said that the SIM card in one of the devices was programmed to send location messages to a mobile belonging to Detective Sergeant Derek Shaw of the central Otago police force. The police are neither confirming nor denying that they planted the tracking devices.

Once the game was up Williams and Shaw entered into a dialogue. DS Shaw allegedly told Williams by phone that the devices were valuable and should be returned. The two also corresponded by email. Williams showed reporters copies of emails, purportedly from DS Shaw, that said "If you have got something of ours it would be good to get it back. You can call me and I can come meet you."

Williams remained unmoved by these pleas and put one of the devices up for sale on Trade Me at a price of NZ$250. His accompanying blurb read "Used government covert surveillance tracking. No police to bid on this."

The listing was quickly pulled by Trade Me last week "at the request of the New Zealand Police", the NZ Press reports.

Williams spent two years behind bars 20 years ago after he was caught selling cannabis to an undercover cop, but said he's been going straight since then. He told reporters that he had no idea why police had taken such a close interest in him.

It's also unclear whether or not a warrant was obtained to plant the tracking devices.

Asked for comment, DS Shaw declined to shed any light on the mysterious affair, declining to answer question for reasons of "operational secrecy". "Police use a variety of legitimate investigation techniques when investigating serious crime. However, it is not the policy of the police to comment on those techniques or other operational matters." ®

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