An Australian criminal intelligence body has announced a special investigation of gambling junket operators from overseas that partner with local casino operators in that country, looking at whether there are risks such business could be compromised by criminals.
News of the initiative from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) came amid accounts carried in that nation’s media – from last week onward – that alleged Australian casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd’s business had been used as a conduit for money laundering and Chinese organised crime activities via high-roller gambling.
Michael Phelan, chief of the ACIC, was cited by news outlets The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald in Wednesday reports as mentioning that a special investigation – referred to in the stories as titled “Targeting Criminal Wealth” – was being carried out and would cover casino junket operators working in that country. According to the reports, Mr Phelan did not identify any operators by name.
Mr Phelan was also cited by The Age as saying that his agency and what were termed other regulatory partners were “aware and actively addressing the significant risks of money laundering through casinos, particularly through casino junkets”.
The ACIC chief also reportedly referred to “opportunities for criminal exploitation,” stemming from “lack of transparency of casino junket operations, anonymity of participants and obscurity around beneficial ownership, source and distribution of junket funds”.
In a written reply to GGRAsia on Friday, a spokesperson from the ACIC said that the Targeting Criminal Wealth Special Investigation was “a long-standing ACIC board approved determination – it is not a new investigation, but an existing one”. Such investigation “aims to disrupt and deter criminal groups by collecting evidence and intelligence about financially motivated crime,” the person added.
Macau major junket operator Suncity Group has been mentioned in Australian media reports as having a commercial presence in Australia, although reports have not specifically linked the brand to any ongoing investigations. According to corporate information presented by Suncity Group, the firm hosts a VIP gaming club in Crown Melbourne, and another one in The Star Sydney, the latter operated by The Star Entertainment Group Ltd.
A Thursday report published by The Age claimed that Suncity Group boss Alvin Chau Cheok Wa – chief executive and director of the privately-held entity – had been blocked from entering Australia. The news outlet cited official sources said to have spoken on condition of anonymity.
GGRAsia approached Suncity Group on Friday, seeking comment on that report by The Age. A spokesperson for Suncity indicated such a topic was a private matter for Mr Chau, rather than for Suncity Group.
We additionally asked Suncity Group if it had been approached by the ACIC regarding any matters under investigation by the latter body. Suncity Group did not address that question directly. It said: “The junket promoting business, operated by Suncity in Macau, Australia and other geographical areas, is rigorously licensed to perform in accordance with legal requirements and the licence conditions.”
Suncity Group added: “For any misrepresentation and misleading reports regarding Suncity Group that could have caused reputational damage, the group reserve the right to take necessary legal action.”
GGRAsia also approached Australian casino operators Crown Resorts and The Star Entertainment Group for comment on the reported ACIC probe.
A spokesperson from The Star told us: “The Star has not been contacted by the ACIC about the reported ‘Targeting Criminal Wealth’ special investigation”.
GGRAsia had not received a reply from Crown Resorts on the same topic by the time the story went online.
Suncity Group had consistently been identified for several years in commentary by investment analysts as the share leader for Macau VIP business. The firm runs 18 VIP gaming clubs in Macau, and 14 high-roller gambling clubs outside Macau namely in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea and Australia, according to previous company statements.
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Spending on purchase of goods, commissions paid and customer rebates in Macau's gaming industry in 2018