A drug dealer who bought P from a multimillion-dollar crime syndicate run from SkyCity Casino was hired as a policeman two months later.
Chee Kent Tan was on full pay as a constable for three years until he was found guilty of two methamphetamine supply charges in May, after detectives cracked a drug ring that laundered at least $11 million through the Auckland casino.
Tan was not a police officer when he was caught in bugged conversations buying 420g of P – with a street value of up to $420,000 – in August 2006 during Operation Ice Age. Detectives were unable to identify his voice at the time, but the following month he applied for a job as a police officer. He passed a urine drug test and was inducted as a probationary constable in October 2006.
Six months later, he was arrested and charged for the two August purchases. He was suspended on full pay for three years until convicted this year. This week, Tan was sentenced in the High Court at Auckland to 7 years in prison. Three other men were also handed lengthy jail stints.
Barrister Graeme Newell said his client was not making money as a member of the crime syndicate, but was rather a P smoker who dealt to pay for his expensive habit. Mr Newell said becoming a policeman “was the first step on the road to Damascus” for Tan, who wanted to end his P habit and had been clean ever since. In sentencing Tan, Justice Patrick Keane took his contrition and remorse into account as well as the hardship he would suffer in jail as an ex-policeman.
His police role was a closely guarded secret, and even Justice Keane did not know of it until this week. Police spokeswoman Ana-Mari Gates-Bowey confirmed that Tan had been employed at Counties Manukau police headquarters as an authorised officer – one with temporary sworn powers to perform duties.
She said there was no evidence to suggest that Tan was leaking sensitive information to his criminal associates. Police sources were sceptical about Tan buying P just a month before applying to join the force. “Asian organised crime is well known for trying to infiltrate all levels of government,” a senior detective said. “For years the gangs have been talking about getting ‘clean skins’ [people without criminal convictions] into the police for years to hold the back door open.”
However, Justice Keane believed Tan was a drug dealer because of his drug habit, rather than to serve the cynical financial interests of the “mastermind” Tac Kin Voong, 47.
The judge sentenced Voong, the ringleader targeted in Operation Ice Age, to 18 years in prison, right-hand man Yihia Luo to 15 years, middle-man Mun Kit Chow to nine and drug runner Tsai Kuo Liang to 5 years. The sentencing of Voong’s girlfriend, Linda Yeh – the mother of his two children – was adjourned.
Voong, who had been found guilty of supplying 1.3kg of methamphetamine and 10,000 P-laced Ecstasy tablets, came to New Zealand in 1993 as a refugee and was an unemployed painter while turning over $11 million at SkyCity in just six months.
Operation Ice Age detectives found another $2.5 million in bundles at a foreign exchange shop across the road from the casino. That money has been seized under the Proceeds of Crime legislation. Nicknamed “Mr Casino”, Voong was compared to rival drug kingpin Ri Tong Zhou by Justice Keane, who said the pair had an identical role in their rival syndicates.
A Weekend Herald investigation last year revealed Zhou supplied 3.7kg of P while using SkyCity as the “office” for his multimillion-dollar drug enterprise.
He spent $8 million at the casino in six months. He and Voong were able to “wash” the profits of their drug-dealing by “laundering” the money through the casino. This can be done several ways. One is simply exchanging cash for casino chips, then cashing them in later for a winner’s cheque, although doing this too often can raise suspicions among SkyCity staff.
Alternatively, money can be pumped straight into poker machines, which work on a mathematical calculation that the casino will eventually keep 12 per cent of the takings. That means that by spending enough time – and money – someone can recoup up to 88 per cent of the cash gambled. Voong hired people to play the pokies all day to do this. He and Zhou were seen rubbing shoulders in the casino VIP lounge and would deal with each other when drug supplies were low.
In sending Zhou to 15 years in prison – he received a discount for pleading guilty – Justice Rhys Harrison noted that anti-gambling lobbyists had warned that the casino could become a “scene for large-scale criminal activity or a meeting place for people who commit serious crimes”. In response, SkyCity general counsel Peter Treacy said the casino did not tolerate any type of criminal or undesirable behaviour.
He said it had a strong relationship with the police and Internal Affairs, particularly in sharing surveillance footage and information to identity any criminal activity. Internal Affairs gambling compliance chief Mike Hill has said SkyCity has learned a “hard lesson” from Voong and Zhou.
“We have been working quite closely with SkyCity since that time and expectations have been raised, standards have been raised … That doesn’t mean to say this could never happen again, but we would hope it would come to our attention a lot earlier.”