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Current as of 24/05/16 07:39PM NZST
Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

High roller loses $5m in just 82 minutes

A wealthy businessman caught up in a money-laundering investigation gambled nearly $300 million in the VIP lounge of SkyCity casino. Photo / Chris Skelton
A wealthy businessman caught up in a money-laundering investigation gambled nearly $300 million in the VIP lounge of SkyCity casino. Photo / Chris Skelton

A wealthy businessman caught up in a money-laundering investigation gambled nearly $300 million in the VIP lounge of SkyCity casino.

And in one astonishing losing streak, he squandered almost $5 million in just 82 minutes.

The "volume of play" - or the combined total of money gambled and won - by William Yan was $563 million between 2001 and 2013, despite the businessman being twice banned for two-year stints in that time.

The staggering figures are found in court documents filed by police, who as part of a money-laundering inquiry have seized millions of dollars of assets they believe belong to Mr Yan.

No criminal charges have been laid against Mr Yan and he strongly denies any wrongdoing. His lawyer, David Jones, QC, declined to comment on his client's gambling.

Senior detectives are working closely with Chinese authorities who claim Mr Yan stole $129 million when he was the chairman of a pharmaceutical company in 2000.

The following year, Mr Yan - also known as Bill Liu, Yang Liu and Yong Ming Yan - moved to New Zealand and was later controversially granted citizenship, despite having multiple identities and an Interpol alert against his name.

In August 2014, the police raided his $2.5 million penthouse Metropolis apartment and seized an estimated $40 million of assets.

The ongoing money-laundering inquiry has probed Mr Yan's gambling at SkyCity, the purchase of expensive homes and cars and bank transactions, as well as his 18.8 per cent stake in Mega and other companies.

The Department of Internal Affairs has described Mr Yan as "one of a number of gamblers of significance whom the department has discussed in its interaction with SkyCity".

No criminal charges have been laid against Mr Yan and he strongly denies any wrongdoing. Photo / Brett Phibbs
No criminal charges have been laid against Mr Yan and he strongly denies any wrongdoing. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A SkyCity spokesman said the casino was unable to comment on matters before the court, or on any individual.

"However, we can say that SkyCity has world-leading host responsibility initiatives to identify and monitor customers who may be in difficulty or who need our help. We don't discriminate between customers in our VIP lounges or the main gaming floor; all receive equal attention.

"It is important to note, however, that the level of play will vary tremendously depending on the financial circumstances of a customer, and it is not necessarily unusual for a wealthy VIP player to generate significant turnover."

The $300 million gambled by Mr Yan is not considered money laundering in itself, but an indication of his wealth.

But one alleged "suspicious" transaction was reported by SkyCity to police. This was the cash purchase of one apartment in the Metropolis for $500,000 -- one of five titles bought on the 35th floor and combined into one giant penthouse -- outlined in an affidavit by Detective Sergeant Keith Kay.

Mr Yan's wife, Vienna You, received $2.3 million in a bank account from a foreign exchange dealer, which she withdrew in two bank cheques of $1.8 million and $500,000.

Those cheques were deposited in SkyCity accounts, but 30 minutes later she withdrew $300,000 and Mr Yan then "cashed out" $200,000 worth of chips. The cash was given to the real estate agent inside the casino.

"Given the timing of these transactions, it appears Mr Yan used Ms You's accounts to receive, then filter through SkyCity, substantial cash funds for the purchase of Apartment 3505," alleged Mr Kay.

"It would have been much more convenient for Ms You to draw a bank cheque from her ANZ account, which was payable directly to the real estate agent. I consider that the only logical explanation for payment via this process is that the funds were derived from Mr Yan's criminal offending and he intended to launder the funds and disguise them as casino winnings."

Mr Yan has said he made his fortune legitimately as a businessman and the two identities he came to New Zealand with, Yong Ming Yan and Yang Liu, are valid because he was fostered out by his birth parents in China. Both sets of parents registered him as part of their household with different names and dates of birth, said Mr Yan, and the Chinese Government considers him an enemy because he is associated with Falun Gong and is pro-democracy.

His assets were seized under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act.

A trial date has yet to be set.

- NZ Herald

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