Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Sky City helped negotiate visa deal for Chinese visitors - Peters

The bar at Sky City casino in Auckland. Winston Peters claims Sky City helped negotiate a deal struck by the Government which fast tracks wealthy Chinese visitors' visa applications.
The bar at Sky City casino in Auckland. Winston Peters claims Sky City helped negotiate a deal struck by the Government which fast tracks wealthy Chinese visitors' visa applications.

Casino company Sky City helped negotiate a deal struck by the Government which fast tracks wealthy Chinese visitors' visa applications when they fly China Southern Airlines to New Zealand, NZ First Leader Winston Peters has revealed.

Mr Peters yesterday forced Immigration Minister Nathan Guy to hastily announce the deal yesterday after he tabled internal Immmigration NZ emails showing the department's head of Intelligence, Risk and Integrity had serious concerns about the arrangement.

But Mr Peters again had Mr Guy on the defensive in Parliament this afternoon when he asked whether Sky City Casino had been pushing for the scheme for years.

Mr Peters said Sky City's wealthy Chinese "high rollers" already operated under the rules which Mr Guy yesterday said would take effect later this month, "which means that a casino and a communist government airline have under his deal with them, now aquired privileges for their customers not available to any other group of people anywhere else in the world".

Mr Guy said he did not agree with Mr Peters' "stupid assertions".

However Mr Peters tabled an article which appeared in online version of New Zealand TravelTrade magazine in which Sky City's president of international business Ejaaz Dean was reported as saying the casino was "working closely with China Southern Airlines to bring VIP gamblers into Auckland seamlessly" and in which he "confirmed the casino was in talks to make the visa process easier".

In response to a question from Labour's Trevor Mallard, Mr Guy said he was not aware of any Sky City involvement in the deal.

Under the deal with China Southern Airlines struck after Mr Guy met with the airline in April, its Gold and Silver card holders would have reduced requirements to get into New Zealand.

China Southern told Immigration NZ that its Gold and Silver Card holders were seeking to avoid "the necessity to answer questions relating to financial backing and employment history and to provide evidence of these" according to an internal Immigration NZ memo tabled by Mr Peters.

The NZ First Leader also produced another memo from the manager of the department's Intelligence, Risk & Integrity Division Shaun Driscoll saying they were "annoyed" they hadn't been consulted on the deal until discussions were well advanced.

"China represents a huge set of risks and given the recent experience with students it seems we haven't learned any lessons," the manager said, referring to the investigation into 300 fraudulent student visas that were issued from Immigration NZ's Beijing office.

"One of the key risks is imported criminality, but because this is not a recognised adverse outcome for Immigration NZ it seems to be ignored in visa decision making."

Mr Driscoll also said the deal "sets a dangerous precedent" and pointed out China Southern Airlines record in supplying correct passenger information was "very patchy".

But Mr Guy said officials had worked to address the concerns raised in the email to ensure that they were "covered off".

Mr Peters yesterday told the Herald there was still concern within Immigration NZ about the scheme, which he understood was already operating. It was "clearly an abuse of both New Zealand border controls and the visitor visa system and it is being driven directly from the minister's office".

"It is disgraceful for the minister to confirm in Parliament today that he's prepared to weaken our border security to simply attract a few more tourists."

A Sky City spokeswoman denied Mr Peters' claims. She said Mr Dean's comments - given in an interview a year ago - had been misreported by TravelTrade.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has confirmed that it had held no discussions with Sky City over the proposed arrangement with China Southern Airlines, and neither had minister Nathan Guy.

There are no special visa arrangements for customers of Sky City, who must meet normal immigration requirements, said a spokesperson for Mr Guy

"SkyCity have publicly stated in the past they would like the visa process simplified to encourage more visitors to New Zealand, and they have communicated this to Immigration New Zealand. However they have had no input into the arrangement with China Southern Airlines. "

- NZ Herald

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