Macau’s Judiciary Police told local media on Tuesday that the force had helped disrupt a “large-scale” criminal operation allegedly involving point-of-sale (POS) machines that processed HKD1.2 billion (US$153 million) in transactions during 2018 alone.
The force said the machines were tampered with in such a way that casino gamblers in the city could use bank cards to withdraw cash from accounts in mainland China but it would seem the money had never left the mainland side of the border.
The names of the banking services that had been victim of the suspected POS device-tampering arrangement were not mentioned in Tuesday’s briefing. Previously machines authorised for use with China UnionPay Co Ltd-enabled cards had been among those targeted for this sort of scam.
A total of 21 people from mainland China was arrested on Monday at “luxury flats” at several locations on either Macau peninsula or in Taipa, local police added. The suspected gang was believed to have started an illegal POS operation in Macau in 2016.
Intelligence provided in November by police in mainland China had helped the local investigation team uncover the alleged plot. The Judiciary Police said it was also suspected that those involved had used profits from the POS operation for underground banking activities. Mainland-only transactions typically have lower fees than ones performed cross-border, and are not subject to the same caps on size and frequency of transaction.
The alleged illegal POS business involved units that had been modified without authorisation, then smuggled into Macau from mainland China.
The Judiciary Police said they believed the suspects had established “five accounts” in a VIP gaming room in a “Cotai casino” in pursuit of their illegal business. The police did not identify the venue.
Gambling patrons targeted by the alleged gang – and that had requested a cash advance via bank card – would have cash delivered to their rooms, drawn via funds held in the VIP room accounts.
The Judiciary Police froze a total of HKD25 million from the accounts that the suspects were believed to have lodged with the VIP room in question.
The force also told local media that police in mainland China had arrested 16 people on that side of the border on suspicion of helping the Macau ring. The mainland arrests were in Beijing, Hebei, Tianjin, Hubei, and also in Zhuhai, next door to Macau.
Further investigations were under way to track the flow of illicit money the group had allegedly handled via its underground banking operation, said on Tuesday the Judiciary Police.
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Market-wide VIP baccarat revenue in Macau in the fourth quarter of 2018