Authorities across the world have long suspected a connection between casinos, money laundering and the underworld. Police in New Zealand recently reported that a convicted drug lord has spent over $15 million at the Sky City Casino in Auckland. Ironically, Van Thanh Tran the drug king pin is currently featured on New Zealand’s unemployment benefit list.
The authorities confirmed that they had launched a highly confidential sting called ‘operation Ghost’ which targeted 6 VIP gamblers who were suspected of being part of a drug syndicate that ran massive quantities of pseudoephedrine from Mainland China to Auckland.
Tran was the leader of this drug syndicate and was arrested for importing pseudoephedrine and distributing the same in New Zealand, including running a single shipment of pseudoephedrine that was estimated to be around 250 kilograms.
Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, a drug that is very popular in New Zealand. Tran who also goes by the gang name of “Elder Brother Ching” migrated to New Zealand back in 1993 and has been on the unemployment list till 2012. Tran was arrested after an undercover officer collected evidence on him and his gang, evidence to which Tran pleaded guilty.
The evidence revealed that Tan was not only the gang leader but also a high stakes gambler who lost as much as $800,000 in a week. He was also described as a loan shark who would large sums of money to get people into debt, who would then become an easy target for the gang to pressurize into becoming a drug mule. Tran used to frequent the SkyCity casino in Auckland and casino records confirm that he sent more than $15 million during a 15 month time frame during which he won and lost close to $67 million.
SkyCity casino stated that they considered Tran a VIP gambler and hence did not have any concerns with the large sums of money that he spent. A representative of SkyCity casino said “We were co-operative with the police from the start of this investigation. We are extremely confident that we took all appropriate actions under AML requirements and also that we took proactive steps from a host responsibility perspective. Only a few of the group of players identified by police were regular visitors to the casino, and the level of their play varied widely. In most cases their turnover was not out of the ordinary for local VIPs.”