He was the man at the centre of the celebrity cocaine ring but his world came crashing down when he was caught in a police sting. Before Mobeen Bhikoo was jailed this week, he talked to Carolyne Meng-Yee.

Mobeen Bhikoo was once described as the "secret weapon of the well groomed".

An award-winning hairdresser for Auckland's bold and beautiful, Bhikoo, 40, ran an up-market salon where a clientele of celebrities and wealthy businessmen are greeted with glasses of bubbly water and glossy magazines.

He sold expensive shampoo there.

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And "shampoo" to some special customers — was code for cocaine.

So when Bhikoo was arrested in September last year in a high-profile drug bust, along with a fashion designer and a Hells Angel bikie, some nervous members of Auckland's elite circles were ducking for cover and hiring lawyers.

"Looking fwd to seeing you today and the new salon.

"Is my shampoo in stock?" was one text message intercepted in Operation Ceviche.

After he was caught, Bhikoo, who grew up in leafy Mt Eden and went to school at King's College and Auckland Grammar, sat his staff down and told them the truth over lunch.
"I told them everything. I said, 'If any of you want to leave for whatever reason I am cool with that', but none of them did," Bhikoo tells the Herald on Sunday.

"I have built up a huge client base — the amazing thing is they have supported me. They said, 'Look we know who you are as a person. This is a hiccup'."

Many of those supporters sat in the High Court at Auckland last week to watch Justice Sally Fitzgerald sentence the 40-year-old to three years and four months in prison.

In an exclusive interview with the Herald on Sunday, Bhikoo says he wasn't a "Colombian cocaine drug dealer".

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"It wasn't a profit thing. I wasn't doing it for the money. I was literally supplying to my clients and friends. I have let myself and my family down without thinking about the consequences."

From left, Tafa Misipati, Benjamin McLellan, Mobeen Bhikoo and Samuel Montgomery in dock. Photo / Brett Phibbs
From left, Tafa Misipati, Benjamin McLellan, Mobeen Bhikoo and Samuel Montgomery in dock. Photo / Brett Phibbs

At the sentencing, Justice Fitzgerald accepted similar submissions from Bhikoo's lawyer, Ron Mansfield, but said it was still a commercial operation. Police found $10,000 in cash at his home. Bhikoo had 37 regular customers, according to the Crown. He disputed this.

He accepted he supplied 20 people on 34 occasions.

"It was been said that cocaine is somehow viewed as socially acceptable, at least in some circles, and 'the thing to do'," said Justice Fitzgerald.

"Any such views must be dispelled. Parliament has classified cocaine as a Class-A drug, the most serious drug class. Any suggestion that cocaine is somehow a more acceptable 'party drug' which warrants a less stern response must be put aside."

Benjamin McLellan, 37, Tafa Misipati, 36, and Samuel Montgomery, 31, were also sentenced at the same hearing after pleading guilty to various charges of supplying or possessing cocaine.

McLellan supplied his good friend Bhikoo with one ounce blocks and discs of cocaine, which were compressed for "cosmetic and marketing" purposes.

These sold like "hotcakes", Bhikoo told his friend in one phone conversation recorded by police.

How the Herald on Sunday broke the story.
How the Herald on Sunday broke the story.

McClellan was also jailed for three years and four months and Misipati, a personal trainer and kickboxer, was sentenced to two years and 11 months. Montgomery, a furniture designer, will spend eight months on home detention.

Among their clientele were a stockbroker, a film assistant, a wealthy businessman, a recruitment agency owner, the husband of a TV actress and a personal trainer.

They were not charged and their names are permanently suppressed. Bhikoo is also good friends with Anthony "Ants" Nansen, a senior member of the Hells Angel and a kickboxer.

They were the original targets in Operation Ceviche, in which detectives thought the odd couple were business partners in drug dealing. As it turned out, although they were mixing socially, Bhikoo and Nansen were running separate "mini" drug rings.

But Operation Ceviche also uncovered a third "mini" drug ring organised by Christopher Lay, a fashion designer.

He pleaded guilty to 17 cocaine-related charges and was sentenced to six years and five months in prison.

At the start of his trial this month, Nansen pleaded guilty to serious methamphetamine charges and participating in an organised criminal group. He will be sentenced in 2018.

Bhikoo says he blames no one but himself for the "hiccup" that landed him in prison. "I got caught so I have to deal with it. I don't ever name anybody — it's my problem. I haven't lied, I 'fessed up.

"I am not resentful. I never got angry at [his cocaine customers]. They didn't hold a knife to my neck and say, 'Go do it'. I could have said no but I didn't."

Bhikoo, who is now in counselling for his drug addiction, revealed he first started using cocaine three years after an acrimonious split with his former business partner, Stephen Marr.

"I had a lot of time on my hands. I was seeing a restraint of trade out from my ex-business partner.

"I am not condoning it but it was just a time in my life. I wasn't a party boy. I don't go out till 2 or 3am every night. I love spending time in the garden and I get the same kick jumping into the ocean or fishing — this was never a lifestyle."

These outdoor pursuits won't be possible until his release from prison, but Bhikoo is consoled by the thought his wife, Patricia, is standing by him.

They married earlier this year and have been in a relationship for 13 years. They also work together.

"There are so many thing in my life that are on hold. My wife is at the stage where she wants children and we haven't been able to go on an amazing honeymoon.

"She's obviously disappointed in me but she has seen something in me. She has been a rock."

But he feels most guilt about bringing shame on his parents.

"They are honest and straight-up people who have worked hard to give us the life we have got now.

"They have sacrificed a lot for me and I can't forgive myself for putting them through this.

"I have always been proud of who I am and what I have done. But I lost my way."