An officer from Macau’s investigative police force told a court session on Friday that the local authorities had collected evidence suggesting that former Macau junket operator Suncity Group amassed “illicit gains” of at least HKD6.3 billion (around US$804 million) from “telephone betting” business between August 2017 and July 2019.
‘Telephone betting’ was understood to be a reference to proxy betting services, where bets on a casino game are placed on behalf of someone not physically present in a gaming venue.
Ho Ka Weng, an investigator from the Judiciary Police – also known by its Portuguese acronym PJ – was giving evidence at the Court of First Instance in the trial involving former Suncity Group boss Alvin Chau Cheok Wa (pictured in a file photo).
Mr Ho said he had been tasked with investigating the alleged multi-year involvement of Mr Chau and Suncity Group in proxy betting services via Macau.
The officer told the court that his inquiry team had found evidence suggesting an additional HKD900 million in illegal gains had been obtained by a proxy betting group called “UE” during the first three months of 2020. According to the prosecution, the UE group is allegedly linked to Suncity Group.
The overall amount of HKD7.2 billion in illegal gains from proxy betting was estimated based on financial statements found by the Judiciary Police in Suncity Group’s office, Mr Ho said.
He added that the proxy betting wagers were placed using either a mobile phone application called “Easy Bet” or voice call, on live casino games hosted at gaming venues in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
According to the Judiciary Police officer, the punters had access to a live video stream of the games they were betting on.
Mr Ho told the court: “We… found Suncity set up telephone betting… with the purpose of facilitating access to gambling for people that found it difficult to gamble in Macau.”
He added that Suncity Group allegedly made use of underground banking networks to sidestep regulatory controls in Macau and mainland China regarding transfer of funds. Mr Ho said the police had found records hinting at capital transfers totalling HKD1.29 billion, made using underground banking channels, and linked to proxy betting services allegedly provided by Suncity Group.
Macau’s Public Prosecutions Office has indicted Mr Chau and 20 other people for illegal gaming, criminal association, fraud, and money laundering, for the purposes of the ongoing trial.
Mr Chau, a key defendant in the case, has denied in court being involved in any form of illegal betting business. He has said that Suncity Group stopped running on behalf of clients, proxy betting services via Macau, after the city’s regulator issued an instruction in 2016 against such activity. He said the group subsequently shifted such services to overseas markets, including the Philippines.
Mr Chau has stated in court that Suncity Group ceased running proxy betting services via the Philippines in 2019, and had subsequently “transferred” such operations to an individual named “Richard Ieong”. After such transfer, the proxy betting business was named “UE”. According to Mr Chau, UE was a separate business entity from Suncity Group, although he admitted the former was a “friend” operation.
During Friday’s court hearing, Macau lawyer Leong Weng Pun, representing Mr Chau, questioned police investigator Mr Ho on the allegation that it was illegal for Suncity Group to promote its Philippines-based proxy betting operations in Macau. Mr Leong noted these operations were licensed by the Philippine authorities. Mr Ho said he was not in a position to comment on that. The presiding judge, Lou Ieng Ha, said the court would decide later on the matter.
The trial continues.
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