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It could be called a working holiday. Singaporeans Suliaman Bin Haron and Saerah Binte Men arrived at Auckland International Airport like any of the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit New Zealand each year.

But instead of seeing the great outdoors of the tourist hotspots, Bin Haron, a 50-year-old retired police officer from Malaysia, and his wife went on a shopping spree - with other people's money.

Armed with cloned credit cards, with details electronically skimmed from ATMs for local and international bank accounts, the pair walked up and down Queen St attempting to buy expensive goods.

Like other tourists, Bin Haron and Binte Men flew to the lake and mountains of Queenstown - if only to fraudulently buy $8035 of wallets and handbags from the Louis Vuitton store.

One ring they tried to buy from Westfields in West Auckland cost $15,000. In total, Bin Haron and Binte Men, 49, bought more than $66,000 of jewellery, laptop computers, clothing, designer handbags and food with "skimmed" credit cards while on holiday in Auckland and Queenstown.

Since being caught in Christchurch - with another 20 skimmed cards - the couple have pleaded guilty to 63 charges of credit card fraud and were sentenced to two years and two months in prison each.

Judge Colin Doherty said the couple were "practiced and professional" as they went about their business.

"You were in this for a profit and I don't accept that you were just mere mules or workers in this operation. I think this was a professional job," the Christchurch Court News reported.

Judge Doherty noted concerns that arose from the case that New Zealand was seen as "a soft touch" for fraudsters because it did not yet have the more secure microchipped cards and readers.

A Malaysian national, Chee Thiong Teh, 48, also pleaded guilty to his part of the Asian crime ring - stealing $30,000 - and has been sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment.

Like a tourist in a Turkish bazaar, his purchases had included $5000 of plush carpet from Carpet Court in Newmarket, Auckland. But this time, it wasn't the tourist who was the sucker.

Teh managed to escape from New Zealand but was caught in mid-December at Auckland International Airport when he tried to enter the country again.

"He was declined entry by Immigration and we charged him as a deterrent," Detective Michael Knighton said after Teh's sentencing.

"There need to be consequences for this sort of crime, other than being sent home."

"Crime tourism" is not a new problem in New Zealand. Remember Giovanni di Stefano, the $75 million British conman who turned up in Auckland in 1990, posing as an Italian lawyer from Beverly Hills in a bid to fraudulently purchase $59m of property?

But if it is not a new phenomenon, globalisation inevitably means it is a growing one.

The Immigration Service is deporting increasing numbers of overseas nationals after they serve their prison sentences - 28 last year to countries ranging from China to Tonga, Pakistan to Argentina.

But last year, it also removed another 64 overseas citizens who were jailed for serious offences committed while on holiday or short-term study visas here.

The convictions of Teh, Bin Haron and Binte Men are the most recent for credit card fraud involving "skimmed" credit cards, as foreign criminals increasingly target New Zealand ATMs.

Police are investigating a brazen attack on National Bank ATMs in Queen St, Vulcan Lane and Parnell, in which more than 800 customers used the machines during the narrow timeframe.

The latest attack in Auckland comes shortly after the successful police prosecution of two illegal immigrants, Jan Marius Scutariu, 31, and Andrei Iustin Raileanu who stole nearly $35,000 with cloned credit cards after sticking a skimming device to a Westpac ATM in Hamilton.

Overseas, credit card skimming is big business, particularly as eastern European organised crime gangs target ATMs in the United Kingdom.

Although rare in New Zealand, even the banks say foreign crims are adding this country to their travel schedule. National Bank spokeswoman Virginia Stracey-Clitherow said skimming gangs were "coming to New Zealand now".

International TV advertising and billboard campaigns market New Zealand as "100 per cent Pure". To the crims, it seems "Pure" represents, "P" - or pure methamphetamine.

"Overseas nationals are a problem," says Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Cahill, the head of the organised crime and drugs squad in Auckland.

"Without doubt, the biggest problem we have is the importation of pre-cursor ingredients from China, about 95 per cent of the pseudoephedrine we find. You get rid of that problem, it would have a massive effect on the methamphetamine trade in New Zealand."

Just last month, two visiting Chinese men who smuggled enough P to give a hit for every single person in Auckland were sentenced to life imprisonment - a legal first for New Zealand.

The $135m drugs bust was by far the largest in New Zealand, as Operation Major discovered 96kg of pure methamphetamine hidden in plastic blocks at the bottom of 1000 green paint cans. A further 154kg of pseudoephedrine was concealed in bags of cement shipped from China.

But the bust represented only a fraction of the drugs the men brought into the country in 2005 and 2006 - Customs officials estimate as little as 10 per cent is intercepted. The rest makes it onto the streets, approximately $3.7 billion of P in the past four years.

On breaking down the doors of the Kohimarama Rd house that was being used as a safe house to distribute the drugs to gangs, police found automatic machine guns, a pistol, $50,000 cash and sophisticated weights and scales.

Wei Fang Pan, 38, and Ming Chin Chen, 48, were both sentenced to life imprisonment.

Each was found to have arrived in the country and set up a company, opened bank accounts, and obtained GST and IRD numbers and post office boxes.

Between Pan and Chen, more than $500,000 was transferred to Chinese bank accounts, as payment for the drugs.

The pair were in direct contact with the Mr Big of the drug ring, a mastermind character in China known only as "Raymond".

Both men travelled extensively between China and New Zealand during May 2005 to May 2006, a strong thread in the Crown case against them.

On all drug shipments that Pan and Chen were convicted on, the men were in China when the shipment left that country and back in New Zealand by the time the shipment arrived.

"The extraordinary scale of the operation, the level of planning, the potential damage to the community and the local economy as a result of this level of drug importation is so significant that I cannot view it as anything less than being within the most serious of cases for which the maximum penalty is prescribed," said Justice Courtney in sentencing.

Three other men were also jailed for shorter sentences for their part in the ring. Another two were found not guilty but deported.

Money is the reason why foreign criminals target New Zealand for methamphetamine, says Detective Senior Sergeant Cahill.

Big money.

Contac NT is an over-the-counter flu medication in China, but is a controlled drug in New Zealand because it contains pseudoephedrine, an ingredient of methamphetamine.

A packet of Contac NT costs $2-$3 in China, says Cahill, but can be sold here on the blackmarket for $100.

There are two main types of import offenders.

There are smaller-scale scams in which 2-3kg packages of Contac NT are sent in the mail to young Chinese students, often legitimately studying here in New Zealand.

"If one packet a week is sent to a rented room in three different houses, that's a lot of money. These are huge profit margins for a commodity.

"For a Chinese kid, to see a product that's legal in China, it doesn't seem that serious to him," says Cahill.

"But it is serious. It's a Class C drug that carries a maximum penalty of eight years in prison."

Then there are large scale, sophisticated drug smuggling operations run by organised crime gangs back in Asia, most often China.

Like Operation Major, a "catcher" is sent to New Zealand to set up legitimate businesses under a pretence to organise the importation. Another person will renting a home or a storage unit to keep large amounts of the pre-cursor substance, or sometimes pure meth.

Someone else will supply the money to pay for everything.

Then, the catcher awaits instructions before selling to New Zealand distributors, quite often to motorcycle gangs like the Head Hunters or Hell's Angels.

The foreign nationals stay in the country only three to six months to complete the smuggling, then return home to be replaced with another group of tourist criminals.

Cahill rejects the perception that New Zealand is a soft target, citing the stiff sentences handed out in recent times.

Although the methamphetamine market is relatively small compared to Australia or the United States, Cahill says foreign criminals come here because of the high prices commanded by the demand for the drug.

"They are people who have seen a business opportunity. The mark-up is incredible," says Cahill.

"There are reports of being able to buy a kilogram of meth in China for US$20,000 ($36,650). A kilo of meth here, sold at street value of $100 a point, is a million dollars.

"But two people just got life imprisonment. That has to send a message. It's always a battle with crime. We win some, we lose some."

Stopping every criminal trying to slip into the country is impossible.

There is no "Big Brother" network connected across the globe to share criminal histories at the border, says Paul Campbell, head of Customs' investigations.

Police, the Immigration Service and Customs share intelligence on border security, also liaising with international law enforcement agencies such as Interpol.

A potential criminal heading to New Zealand will be "flagged" on the computer system - much like in the case of card skimmer Chee Teh - but only if border security has been alerted.

"Basically that is all we can and do do. It is really a matter of police having early warning advice that a person who has committed crimes in another country is in fact expected to come to New Zealand," says Jon Neilson, spokesman for Police National Headquarters.

"In the event of a criminal from overseas getting into New Zealand and found committing crimes in New Zealand, much like the ones you've mentioned, then the local investigation team would check back through Interpol to find out if that person had a criminal record in another country."

However, many of the people caught drug smuggling here have no previous convictions, either here or in their homeland.

Wei Feng Pan slipped under the radar, as did Chen Ming Chen.

Both were well-educated men with families and legitimate business interests.

Immigration New Zealand can check the bona fide reasons of suspicious characters coming into the country, but can only stop them if the evidence supports it.

Operation Major was a prime example of a group of individuals who came to New Zealand under the pretence of legitimate business, says Paul Campbell.

"You are required to declare your criminal history on arrival in New Zealand. But you may choose to lie - and a lot of criminals do."

Authorities are confident they can outsmart the crime tourists. They have to, if New Zealand isn't to see its 100 per cent Pure brand overtaken by a reputation as 100 per cent Sure Thing for crime tourists.