One of the key suspects in a sophisticated drug syndicate was allowed to flee New Zealand for fear of jeopardising the covert investigation which led to a record-breaking $190 million haul.
Da Wen Shao has not returned but is alleged to sit in the upper echelon of the Auckland organised crime ring charged with smuggling 263kg of pseudoephedrine into the country in a single importation.
Court documents released to the Herald show that a van load of 20 boxes of "corn starch" - but containing the Class-B drug used to manufacture methamphetamine - were switched with boxes of corn starch in a Customs-controlled area at Auckland International Airport.
The swap happened inside a freight company under police surveillance. Intercepted phone calls show Shao was in contact with a staff member, who told him the van would be ready to collect soon.
Undercover officers followed the van to an address in Avondale, where Shao parked his car alongside the van inside a double garage and from there to a property in Blockhouse Bay.
The homes were watched for nearly two weeks while detectives in the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand gathered more evidence through bugged phone calls. The decision was made to raid the "safe house" addresses in Avondale and Blockhouse Bay in October and seize the pseudoephedrine before the drugs could hit the streets. Caches of 58kg and 205kg were discovered and two people who lived at the houses were arrested. Together, these are the largest seizures of pseudoephedrine in New Zealand history.
But the more senior members of the alleged drug syndicate were left alone in a tactical move, in the hope they would think they had escaped detection.
However, 44-year-old Shao left New Zealand the next day - and has not returned.
Detective Inspector Bruce Good, the officer in charge of Operation Ghost, said the decision to allow Shao to fly to China was difficult.
"If we arrested him, we'd have to terminate the operation early. Otherwise they would all be running to the airport, or flushing their drugs down the toilet."
Mr Good said the decision was calculated in that he might return if no other arrests were made.
But Shao did not return and six weeks later police laid hundreds of serious drugs charges against more than 30 people.
The total amount of pseudoephedrine seized in the raids in October and December was nearly 600kg - enough to cook $172 million of P - including 260kg disguised as "bread crumbs" inside a shipping container at the Ports of Auckland.
Homes, cars and cash worth more than $20 million were seized and restrained under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act.
According to the court file, Shao was a "substantial customer" of the casino until he was banned for loan sharking in December 2012. In the eight months earlier, he had a gambling turnover - the total of money spent and winnings - of $13.2 million.
• Da Wen Shao
• 44-year-old Auckland man
• Charged with importing 263kg of pseudoephedrine, a Class-B drug used to cook methamphetamine
• Gambling turnover of $13.2 million at SkyCity in just eight months.
• Fled New Zealand before his arrest. Believed to be in China
• Anyone with information about Shao can contact Detective Sergeant John Sowter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 09 259 0736