SkyCity knew of plan to ease access

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 05:00 16/11/2012

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SkyCity boasted about bringing high-rolling gamblers to New Zealand aboard China Southern Airlines through a fast-tracked visa process a year before Immigration New Zealand recommended that the Government sign a deal with the carrier.

Immigration Minister Nathan Guy was this week forced to reveal an agreement with the airline, which comes into effect next week, for its gold and silver frequent-flier cardholders to skip normal border checks after leaked documents were released by NZ First leader Winston Peters.

SkyCity's president of international business Ejaaz Dean told New Zealand Travel Trade in August last year the casino was "working closely with China Southern Airlines to bring VIP gamblers into Auckland seamlessly".

Mr Dean confirmed the casino was in talks to make the visa process easier, the magazine reported.

Mr Peters said yesterday that SkyCity had been pushing for the scheme for years. "Their high-rollers already operate under these new rules, which means a casino and a communist government airline have under [Mr Guy's] deal with them, now acquired privileges for their customers not available to any other group of people anywhere else in the world."

Police listed common offences by Asian crime syndicates as extortion, drug trafficking, identity fraud and people smuggling, he told Parliament.

"The China Southern Airlines deal is a recipe for illegal activity, including money laundering, warned of by the Department of Internal Affairs."

Gangs such as triads could exploit the scheme to get into New Zealand, he suggested.

However, Mr Guy said he did not agree with "those stupid assertions". Although SkyCity had publicly stated it wanted visa processing simplified, Immigration NZ did not hold any discussions with the company and there were no special visa arrangements for its customers.

SkyCity spokeswoman Kelly Armitage said the company had not been consulted over the deal or involved in negotiations.

The auditor-general is investigating the Government's deal with SkyCity, which would allow the casino to have hundreds more pokie machines in return for building a $350 million convention centre in Auckland.

Finance Minister Bill English rejected Mr Peters' claims that the Government had an "incestuous relationship" with the casino. "We're a very transparent government. Almost everything is available under the Official Information Act."

The Government discussed laws with commercial entities and large scale public entities "all the time", he said.

Meanwhile, Labour's immigration spokeswoman, Darien Fenton, suggested that an announcement by China Southern Airlines yesterday that New Zealand was the chosen destination for its annual top 250 travel agents event in December was a "payback" for its deal.

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The claim was rejected by Mr Guy.

- Fairfax Media

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