Australian gaming operator Crown Resorts Ltd and some of that country’s officials will be investigated after allegations of money laundering at the firm’s casinos and the fast-tracking of visas for a few wealthy overseas gamblers, according to local media reports.
“There are sufficient concerns to warrant at least further investigations,” Australia’s attorney-general Christian Porter told parliament on Tuesday.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, along with the 60 Minutes television programme carried on that country’s Nine Network, reported at the weekend that Crown Resorts used junket operators – allegedly linked to drug traffickers – as it sought to attract wealthy Chinese gamblers to Australia. Crown Resorts runs a gaming resort (pictured) in Melbourne, Victoria; one in Perth, Western Australia; and is developing a third at Barangaroo in Sydney, New South Wales.
The media reports said that some Australian officials helped speed big-spending Crown Resorts gamblers through immigration. The reports also claimed that at least one Asian crime syndicate was laundering money through the Australian firm’s casinos.
The reports were part of a what was said to be a year-long investigation. The reports included comments from a former Crown Resorts’ employee who was among those of the company’s workers arrested in an incident in 2016 in mainland China.
Macau casino operator Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd is one of Crown Resorts biggest individual shareholders, as is Australian billionaire James Packer.
Melco Resorts said in May it would pay US$1.2 billion to acquire a 19.99-percent stake acquisition in Crown Resorts, becoming the second-biggest stockholder in the Australian company.
Mr Porter on Tuesday said he had referred allegations carried in the media reports to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which will determine whether a further probe is needed. The agency – which main role is to investigate corruption within law enforcement bodies – has the power to apply for search warrants and seize evidence, making it a better-resourced body to investigate, he explained.
Australia’s attorney-general stated that the government took allegations of wrongdoing seriously, particularly when they made reference to the role of that nation’s law enforcement, immigration and customs authorities, reported the Australian Associated Press.
Mr Porter added: “They, of course as the part of the broader Australian law enforcement community, hold very privileged positions, and as such are expected to uphold the highest standards of integrity and professionalism.”
The official stressed however that his decision did not mean he had evidence that supported the allegations raised by the media reports.
The publication of the claims over the weekend triggered several calls on Monday by a number of lawmakers for an investigation of Crown Resorts by a parliamentary committee.
Crown Resorts said in a Tuesday statement it had a “robust process for vetting junket operators” that are regularly reviewed. The firm also said it has a comprehensive anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing programme that is subject to supervision by the country’s financial crimes agency, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre.
“Crown works closely with all of its regulatory agencies, including law enforcement, both state and federal,” the casino firm said in a filing to the Australian Securities Exchange.
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”Our own consensus is that any newcomers to this [junket] sector should be corporatised, and should be financially sound and able to commit a higher guarantee deposit”
Kwok Chi Chung
President of junket trade body, the Macau Association of Gaming and Entertainment Promoters