High-rollers get VIP border treatment

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 09:08 17/11/2012

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Auckland International Airport provides VIP ''airside clearance'' to some SkyCity high-rollers, including those arriving on China Southern Airlines who may now be eligible for fast-tracked visa processing.

From next week, the carrier's gold and silver frequent flier cardholders will be able to skip normal border checks in a deal with the Government that Opposition parties claim opens New Zealand's borders to international organised crime syndicates.

Immigration Minister Nathan Guy was forced to announce details of the previously secret scheme after leaked documents were released by NZ First leader Winston Peters.

Peters said SkyCity pushed for the arrangement after it was boasted about by its president of international business Ejaaz Dean in a travel magazine a year ago.

But SkyCity has distanced itself from the deal, saying while it wanted initiatives to attract Chinese tourists, it had no involvement in negotiations.

It has now emerged that an arrangement between SkyCity and Auckland International Airport enables some high-rollers to be met by airport officials when they get off the plane and escorted privately through customs and immigration.

The arrangement was revealed in SkyCity's shareholder review in June which also heralded the launch of China Southern Airlines' direct flights to Auckland from Guangzhou in April 2011.

Auckland International Airport spokesman Richard Llewellyn said the airport provided ''airside clearance'' service to a ''few hundred'' VIPs a year from a wide range of organisations and countries.

The service was provided on the merits of each VIP who could be wealthy business people, celebrities, diplomats or  government officials, he said.

"Certainly SkyCity have had some people that fall into that group in the past.''

The VIPs still had to meet standard visa requirements, Llewellyn said.

The airport considered someone's potential economic contribution to New Zealand and VIP gamblers would be regarded the same way as wealthy business people, he said.

The service was also provided to assist police and to help the airport run smoothly if visitors, such as boy band One Direction, would potentially have an impact on the airport's operations, Llewellyn said.

People entering the country on private jets usually used the service because they wanted to be processed privately.

While other airports such as Melbourne and Heathrow charged for the service, Auckland International didn't.''We might consider at some stage but at the moment we do it to benefit New Zealand.''

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Peters questioned why high-rolling gamblers and certain other professions were eligible for airside clearance, but not others such as doctors. 

''This is just outrageous.''

- Auckland Now

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