A secret criminal life of a young man also running two Auckland businesses which allegedly owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to customers can now be revealed.
Saman Ahmad Khan Bigy was yesterday found guilty of six serious drugs charges laid as part of Operation Ghost, an 18-month covert investigation which targeted an organised crime syndicate, and now faces a prison sentence.
The 25-year-old was downcast after the jury in the Auckland District Court convicted him of four methamphetamine charges and two pseudoephedrine charges.
Bigy purchased three ounces of methamphetamine from Asian crime figures in 2013 and then sold as a mid-level dealer.
Bought by the ounce, or 28g, the Class-A drug can cost between $10,000 and $14,000 and sells for around $700 a gram at street level.
Bigy bought the drugs from See Meng Hoo, a VIP at SkyCity casino, who was found guilty of 29 pseudoephedrine charges and two methamphetamine charges. Also known as "Baldy Mark", Hoo also supplied pseudoephedrine to Chee Eng Tan, also found guilty of 10 charges.
The trio were denied bail but two others, Jason Ng and Chao Ksiung Ku, walked free.
Both were acquitted on all Class-B charges they faced and jubilantly shook hands with their lawyers, David Reece and Mark Ryan respectively, before leaving the courtroom.
Now that Bigy has been convicted, a suppression order which stopped the Herald from reporting his links to two family businesses which has allegedly left 200 people in the lurch has been lifted.
Police are investigating the Mt Eden travel agency and its neighbouring international money transfer service, Persian Network, owned by Bigy's parents Afsaneh Lotfi and Vahid Ahmad Khan Bigy.
While the investigation is ongoing, police have previously advised the 68 complainants the issues raised appear to be "predominately civil matters so it would be advisable to pursue civil remedies".
The couple left for Hong Kong late last year amid allegations of about 200 dishonoured airfares and incomplete international money transfers totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Saman Bigy, the manager of the Dena Travel agency, was left to front the media seeking answers from angry customers.
"Unfortunately both the businesses have been closed down...we are waiting for everything to process. We can't deal with any customers directly at the moment," he told the Herald.
A Panmure woman who wished to only be known by her first name, Sara, said she hoped a prison sentence for his offending would protect other potential victims.
She has documentation that shows she is owed tens of thousands of dollars by Dena Travel and the Persian Network.
The outstanding funds meant she was unable to travel to her native Iran to see her mother and sister before they died.
"I never thought I would be happy to see someone go to jail but if he does, it is a relief for me that he will not be able to make more suffering for people."
While not a registered director of the company, Bigy called himself "director" and ran the day-to-day operations.
"Every time I went there he was there."
Sara is one of many victims trying to get reimbursement through the civil courts, a process complicated by Bigy's parents leaving the country.
But while he was dealing with complaints from those left out of pocket, Bigy was facing more serious problems.
He was swept up as a mid-level P dealer in an 18 month investigation, Operation Ghost, which targeted a criminal network smuggling hundreds of kilograms of pseudoephedrine - Class-B drug used to make methamphetamine - into New Zealand.
The jury heard evidence during the month-long trial from an undercover agent who socialised in the VIP lounge at SkyCity casino to gain the confidence of the suspected drug dealers - including a conversation where they discussed how to spot an undercover agent and sexual performance pills containing "tiger testicles".
Behind locked doors at the Auckland District Court, the secret witness called 'Joe Arama' described how he infiltrated the drug dealing syndicate.
The undercover officer said his police "handler" had tasked him with building a relationship with Felix Lim, a Malaysian man in his late 50s earlier described in court as being on the "periphery" of a pseudoephedrine dealing network.
Arama posed as an underworld figure seeking to buy drugs to on-sell and wore a hidden audio device to record conversations with Lim and his associates.
Some of these meetings took place in the VIP lounge at SkyCity casino, where Lim took Arama as his guest. There he was introduced to "Baldy Mark" and Arama said the conversation later turned to "how to spot an undercover agent".
"Did you assist them in that?" asked Crown prosecutor Scott McColgan.
"No, but they advised me to be suspicious of Asians," Arama replied. He continued to build rapport with Lim and told the jury Lim said "Baldy Mark" could supply an ounce of methamphetamine for $13,000 and 10 "sets" of ContacNT for $93,000.
Pseudoephedrine can be extracted from ContacNT, a cold and flu medicine sold in China, and sold by the "set" - 223g of the pink and yellow granules from 1000 capsules. A deal was struck for half the amount - Arama would pay $46,500 for five sets or 1.1kg.
After meeting at the 277 mall in Newmarket, Lim drove Arama to the man known as "Baldy Mark", identified as See Meng Hoo, in Ellerslie where the cash and parcels of drugs were eventually exchanged.
Arama said Hoo believed his supplier had a 500kg stockpile of pseudoephedrine and talked about supplying a gang member in Tauranga.
Hoo also talked of smuggling cheap methamphetamine from Malaysia and his family ties to a police officer there, Arama told the court.
Under questioning from Hoo's lawyer John Moroney, Arama said other money making ventures were discussed.
This included getting expensive European cars from a bankrupt business in Malaysia and selling them cheaply here, as well as herbal pills with the "same effect as Viagra". Arama said they were made from "ginseng and tiger testicles".
Earlier in the trial, Detective Sergeant Mike Beal told the jury Operation Ghost had a "geographical focus" on SkyCity casino where millions of dollars were gambled by some of those under surveillance.
The Herald can now reveal that Hoo - found guilty of 33 charges - was a VIP at the casino and was buying pseudoephedrine from another high-roller, Van Thanh Tran.
SkyCity records show Tran spent $15 million in a 15-month period and his volume of play - the churn of money won and lost - was $67 million.
Overall Tran lost more than $1.1 million in that short time.
The high-roller also held an account with SkyCity in which he deposited $2.5 million of gaming chips, cheques and cash in 11 months and withdrew $460,000 during the same time.
Also known as Peter or "Elder Brother Ching", Tran last month received one of the longest ever prison sentences for smuggling the drugs needed to make methamphetamine.
He did not stand trial but pleaded guilty to importing, possession for supply and supplying the pseudoephedrine including 250kg smuggled in a single shipment.
Crown prosecutor Scott McColgan said the "huge importation" of ContacNT, a cold and flu medication in China, was enough to cook up to 67kg of methamphetamine.
The maximum sentence for a single Class-B charge is 14 years. But Mr McColgan asked Justice Geoffrey Venning to start Tran's sentence at between 17 and 19 years - usually reserved for the largest P dealers - to reflect the totality of his widespread dealing.
Justice Venning said pseudoephedrine was the key ingredient in methamphetamine, which he described as a "blight on our community", and Tran supplied millions of dollars' worth of the drug.
He ruled the starting point for Tran's sentence to be 18 years, but gave him a 12 month discount for personal factors, including his remorse and gambling addiction, then a further 20 per cent discount for his guilty pleas.
The final sentence of 13 years and eight months is believed to be the longest sentence ever imposed for solely Class-B drugs.
Tran had been on the unemployment benefit since immigrating to New Zealand in 1993 until 2012 despite making a fortune from his illegal empire.
The police have seized two homes from Tran, several cars including an Audi, $85,000 cash, bank accounts holding more than $200,000 as well as jewellery. Most of these assets were held in the names of family members.
- additional reporting Morgan Tait
FOUND GUILTY TODAY
• "Baldy Mark" See Meng Hoo - Found guilty of 29 pseudoephedrine charges and 2 methamphetamine charges. Acquitted on 8 charges.
• Chee Eng Tan - Found guilty of 10 pseudoephedrine charges, acquitted on 10.
• Saman Ahmad Khanbigy - Found guilty of 4 methamphetamine charges and 2 pseudoephedrine charges
Others already convicted and sentenced
• "Peter" Van Thanh Tran (13 years 8 months)
• Chuck Lou Tarm (12 years six months)
• "Alex" Zhi Tong Li (11 years 8 months)
• Ziyang Ma (9 years 4 months)
• Joel Davies (9 years 3 months)
• Zigeng Ma (six years six months)
• Mosese Uele (5 years 5 months)
• Jiu Mei Zheng (2 years 9 months)
• Hau Phan Lam (2 years 8 months)
• Yoke Lee (2 years 8 months)
• Quan Ha (2 years 6 months)