A long-time Head Hunters associate was offered VIP membership at SkyCity casino despite being under arrest and facing serious methamphetamine charges.
Police first contacted SkyCity about Roger Emmanuel Al-Hachache in 2015. He was eventually arrested in March 2016 but a year later he applied for and gained VIP membership. That allowed Al-Hachache access to high-stakes gaming room Eight, as well as hotel and restaurant privileges.
When he was arrested, police found more than $6000 of casino chips and $100,000 in cash in the boot of his car.
A casino source said it was not unusual for individuals to win or lose six-figure sums during a single session at Eight.
The news comes soon after the Weekend Herald revealed that two-time SkyCity Festival of poker winner Shane Tamihana, aka Shane Thompson, was facing serious charges after police busted the biggest drugs ring in the Hawkes Bay.
SkyCity head of communications Colin Espiner said the Al-Hachache incident was unfortunate but reflected a one-off breakdown of their systems.
"Police made a request to SkyCity in September 2015 for any information we held on Mr Al-Hachache. We had no record of any customer by this name and he was not known to SkyCity," Espiner said. "A note detailing the police inquiry was created in our files.
"Nearly two years later, in March this year, Mr Al-Hachache applied to join SkyCity's Premier Rewards loyalty programme. Staff who assessed his application were unaware of the police inquiry from 2015."
When police contacted SkyCity in September to advise of Al-Hachache's fate his account was deactivated.
"SkyCity has a zero tolerance policy for organised crime or criminal activity of any sort. Any allegations of such behaviour are always taken extremely seriously and, if warranted, result in exclusion and police involvement," Espiner said.
Espiner said SkyCity had zero-tolerance policy to crime.
"We work closely alongside police to rigorously enforce this," he said.
"We use technology to assist us in ensuring persons of interest to the police are flagged in our system database, and this technology is improving constantly. However… no system is perfect and very occasionally an alert is not picked up."
Al-Hachache, nicknamed "The Camel", was one of 18 people arrested in March last year following a covert police investigation Operation Bunk.
Five of those charged in Operation Bunk were members of the Head Hunters gang.
Al-Hachache is not a patched member, but a long-time associate of the motorcycle club.
Born in Lebanon, he moved to New Zealand 27 years ago.
When police searched his tyre shop in Otahuhu, they found $6500 worth of casino chips in the boot of a Mercedes. Punters are entitled to take winning chips home.
Hidden inside one tyre was $105,000 in cash, while 3kg of ephedrine – the key ingredient in P, worth $120,000 per kg – was stashed inside two wheel rims.
At the time of the arrests, Detective Senior Sergeant Lloyd Schmid said police suspected the casino chips were linked to money laundering.
"We've found $6500 worth of casino chips, in the boot of a Mercedes. We suspect that these are linked to money laundering; hiding money that's been obtained from selling meth," Schmid said in a police press release, although no charges of money laundering were laid.
Espiner said SkyCity "fully complies with the strict rules laid down in the Anti Money Laundering Act".
Evidence presented at the High Court trial revealed Al-Hachache used his business, Osaka Tyres, as a front for drug dealing.
The facade also allowed Al-Hachache to talk in code about tyres and car parts, when in reality they were referring to drugs.
Al-Hachache was eventually convicted of various charges, including the possession and supply of ephedrine, a Class-B drug, and supplying small amounts of methamphetamine.
In August, Justice Sally Fitzgerald sentenced the 53-year-old to 8 years in prison.
He had previous methamphetamine convictions, including a six-year prison sentence handed to him in 2007.
"Of concerns is that there appears to be an escalation in the seriousness of your offending over time," said Justice Fitzgerald.
"Ultimately your actions, and the actions of your associates, contribute to many people having access to and becoming addicted to methamphetamine.
"I am sure you are aware of the devastating effect this drug has on its users and the New Zealand society more generally."
Al-Hachache is the latest in a long line of underworld figures who have spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars at the casino.
As far back as 2009, Justice Rhys Harrison noted anti-gambling lobbyists had warned that the casino could become a "scene for large-scale criminal activity or a meeting place for people who commit serious crimes".
He said this in sentencing Ri Tong Zhou, who used the VIP lounge as an "office" to run his P network, to 15 years in prison.
2015: Police ask SkyCity about Roger Al Hachache but the casino doesn't know him by that name.
March 2016: Al Hachache arrested and charged in Operation Bunk. Remanded on bail.
March 2017: Al Hachache offered VIP status at SkyCity.
August 2017: Al Hachache sentenced to 8 years in prison for his part in a Head Hunter P ring.
September 2017: Police tell SkyCity and VIP status cancelled.