Qantas has an unblemished record when it comes to safety. Unfortunately the same can’t be said when it comes to doing deals with international crime gangs. Michael Sainsbury reports.
Qantas has forgone tens of millions of dollars after the collapse of a freight deal between Sydney and Macau with a company with close links and financial backing of one of Macau’s notorious criminal triad gangs.
But the deal to fly fresh Australian produce using a Qantas B767-300F freight plane for Macau’s myriad five-star hotels and gambling complexes, and sending Chinese ecommerce products back to Australia with Jetfast Limited, fell over after only six flights in 2018, even before Qantas could issue a planned media release promoting its entry into the Macau market.
An official launch was set to be held in Macau on Friday March 23 last year but by then things had collapsed. Jetfast chief executive Reuben Milne – a dual Australian New Zealand citizens, who has disconnected his Australian mobile number and did not return emails – remains in hiding from his creditors, including his Macau backers. Some associates believed he may be in New Zealand.
It is understood Milne owes his Hong Kong partners, who funded his 30 per cent stake in JetFast, including triad gangs as much as $5.6 million.
One of Jetfast’s directors who inked the deal with Qantas was Lai Pak Leng also known as Parry Lai, who held 30 per cent of JetFast. Lai is the son of Lai Tong Sang, a man accused of being the head of Shui Fong Triads, the most powerful organised crime syndicate in Hong Kong and Macau, and who was tossed out of Canada in 2013.
Best laid plans …
Qantas had planned to position the deal as an expansion of its China freight network that includes another deal with Atlas Air which leases two Qantas aircraft to ferry goods between Australian, China and the United States, people familiar with the deal said.
But Qantas – unlike Milne’s creditors in Hong Kong, Macau and Australia – is not owed any money. A Qantas spokesperson said that all the flights were pre-paid. “Qantas had a deal with JetFast for pre-paid freight services to Macau. We undertook six flights but when it became apparent the company was running out of money we cancelled the deal,” he said.
Under the contract, a copy of which has been obtained by michaelwest.com.au, the minimum number of flights between Sydney and Macau was 52 per year – JetFast was able to cancel a maximum of six flight a year with 14 days notice – with a total value $14.7 million each year.
It is understood Qantas banked $2.3 million, after which the deal fell over. This included a forfeited $US500,000 bank guarantee that Qantas gave to JetFast which was collected by Qantas in August 2018.
The Crown connection
Milne had come to prominence in the Macau aviation sector by dint of his time working as head of air operations for Melco Crown, originally a joint venture between James Packer’s Crown Resorts and Melco, the Macau based gaming company run by Lawrence Ho, the scion of Hong Kong’s powerful Ho family, headed by his father Stanley, the original Macau casino operator.
Milne had been employed by the gambling group to fly private jets and helicopters that ferried around executives and the high-rollers that kept the billions hundred of millions of dollars in gambling revenues ticking over which has seen Macau’s casinos emerge over the past decades as the world’s largest gambling hub with revenues now about ten times those of Las Vegas in the United States.
For more than a decade prior to this, Milne had been personal helicopter pilot for Stanley Ho. In recent days, an investigation by Fairfax newspapers and its parent Nine Network’s 60 Minutes has revealed a web of connections between Crown Resorts and Macau triads.
It is unclear at this stage whether Milne’s backers are linked to the gangs reported to be involved with Crown.
Lobsters for mobsters
It was these same casinos which Milne planned to target with fresh Australian produce including lobsters, abalone, oysters and other prized Australian seafood as well as fresh fruit, vegetables, quality meats and wines. However, people familiar with JetFast said that the company had inadequate business plans and few regular contracts locked in with both suppliers and customers at the time it struck the deal with Qantas.
One person familiar with the business said on the last of the six flights undertaken by Qantas and JetFast, the only cargo was a solitary pallet of fresh lobsters.
Under the contract, Qantas obtained a valuable a landing slot in Macau, a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China like Hong Kong, but a territory which Qantas has never previously flown into with either its freight or passenger jets.
In a press release written by Qantas and dated March 8, 2018, and obtained by michaelwest.com.au but never issued, titled Qantas Freight expands cargo presence in Asia with new charter, Qantas said the planes would carry “up to 50 tons (sic) worth of cargo space to carry the anticipated high volumes of produce between Australia and Asia.
“The service will meet growing demand to move a wide range of fresh produce from Australia into the Pearl River Delta region through Macau, allowing Asian-made electronics and general goods to flow into Australia.
“The service will help provide shippers with greater choice and flexibility on top of existing passenger and freight services to other parts of North Asia.”
Wiseways, not Wiseguys
JetFast had told Qantas that it would work with two logistics organisations, Wiseways Ltd in Australia, a company now chaired by Keating government Cabinet minister Nick Bolkus and VPS in Macau, who would represent JetFast as their respective freight forwarders in each country.
Wiseways’ share price has halved since it listed that listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in late 2018. The deal came only four years after Qantas planned Jetstar Hong Kong business, which it spent many years and a considerable amount of funds lobbying to get, was shelved.
Under Jetstar’s Hong Kong plans, Qantas would fly into mainland China but chief executive Alan Joyce finally gave up after two separate attempts to gain a licence to fly out of the city’s already over-crowded Chek Lap Kok Airport failed.
A Qantas spokesman said the company was at present focused on bedding down its Jetstar joint ventures in Singapore (Jetstar Asia), Vietnam and Japan. Qantas continues to have code share arrangements with two of China’s top three airlines, Guangzhou-based China Southern and Shanghai-based China Eastern.
Qantas confirmed that it did have due diligence processes in place but would not provide any further information. It is understood that no credit checks are undertaken by Qantas for flights that are pre-paid.
It is also understood that the due diligence was undertaken by Singapore-based Qantas executive Harold Pang.
The man with the dragon tattoo
During his time in Asia, Reuben Milne met and married his wife Mei Mei, in the process he obtained a dragon tattoo on his back which may link him to the triads. Efforts to contact Milne for this story were unsuccessful.
Post-1999 handover of Macau from Portugal to China, there has been little in the way of wholesale organised crime activity in Macau. It still exists but the gangland violence has ended thanks to a Beijing-prompted crackdown.
Also, one of the two triad gangs which controlled Macau (called 14K) was busted by authorities and its boss Wan Kuok Koi (aka “Broken Tooth”) was convicted and jailed just weeks before the handover.
This left just one gang, Shui Fong, which kept the peace and reportedly parlayed a lot but not all of its money into legitimate businesses. The gangsters have an enclave in the Taipa section of Macau and when Broken Tooth was released he moved in this apartment complex.
In this complex, Milne lived in apartment 14B. As noted above, Milne appears to have gone into hiding and friends report that he has not been sighted since December, 2018. Milne did not respond to email messages at the time of publication.
Story to come: The Man with the Dragon Tattoo
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