New Zealand Restaurateur Avoids Jail, Fines For Illegal Gambling, Loan Sharking

Yanxian Liu, the co-owner of a Chinese restaurant in Newmarket, New Zealand, allegedly distributed contraband cigarettes and ran an illegal gambling operation from his restaurant. However, his only punishment is an order to reimburse the money he earned from his illicit activity.

New Zealand police officers on patrol
New Zealand police officers on patrol. A man found to have been offering illegal gambling and loan sharking in the country won’t go to prison but has to give up the money he made. (Image: New Zealand government)

Liu was apparently importing Chinese cigarettes and selling them to customers while hosting illegal gambling on mahjong, according to the New Zealand Herald. Police also discovered that Liu was running a money-lending scheme.

Police initially visited Liu’s home in June 2021 for another unspecified matter. That led to a search of the home, where the officers found NZ$141,480 (US$88,127) in cash, the New Zealand Herald explained, leading to the further investigation that turned up his illicit restaurant activity.

After the investigation, Liu admitted his guilt. That led to an official request by the Commissioner of Police to force him to turn over the cash the officers found, which a High Court judge has now granted.

Crime and Punishment

A fine for hosting illegal gambling in New Zealand can be as much as NZ$10,000 (US$6,229) for an individual, according to the Department of Internal Affairs.

Loan sharking carries substantially higher penalties. In the most severe cases, illegal lenders can face fines of up to NZ$600,000 (US$373,740). New Zealand customs require a permit to import large quantities of tobacco. Violators can be fined a minimum of NZ$400 (US$249).

Liu allegedly imported 14,000 cigarettes. That’s the equivalent of 700 packs of a standard 20-cigarette pack.

Untangling the Web

Neither the media outlet nor the police have explained why there won’t be an effort to prosecute Liu, despite his apparent criminal record. However, numerous cases have occurred over the years of Chinese citizens moving abroad in exchange for lifelong debt.

They are forced to work in or manage commercial establishments to finance their emigration. If they can’t make scheduled payments, those holding the debts — mostly Chinese triads — have been known to torture or kill family members.

There are also examples of Chinese restaurants being fronts for money-laundering activity controlled by the triads. This has been seen in the US, Canada, Spain, and other countries. There’s no evidence that Liu’s story follows a similar thread.

In addition, the amount he had to reimburse the government likely exceeds any monetary fine he could have received. Prosecutors may have felt that giving up the money was enough to serve justice.

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