A Macau court has sentenced Alvin Chau Cheok Wa (pictured in a file photo), former boss of now-defunct Macau casino junket Suncity Group Ltd, to 18 years in prison in aggregate. The sentence was read out on Wednesday (January 18) at the city’s Court of First Instance by the presiding judge, Lou Ieng Ha.
Macau’s Public Prosecutions Office had indicted Mr Chau, 48, the founder of Suncity Group, and 20 other people, for illegal gaming, criminal association, fraud, and money laundering.
Judge Lou said that the criminal association charge had been proven against Mr Chau and several other defendants, as well as Mr Chau’s leadership role in the criminal group.
Other charges proven against Mr Chau were: illicit gambling, including operating illicit gambling in authorised venues; and fraud. He was not convicted for money laundering.
Twelve other defendants were convicted on Wednesday on various charges. Eight were sentenced to prison terms ranging from nine to 15 years; four got suspended jail terms. Eight defendants were acquitted of all charges.
Philip Wong Pak Ling, identified as the former head of Suncity Group’s finance department, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Other defendants also handed a 15-year prison term were: Cheong Chi Kin, who had worked as a “junket agent” for Suncity Group, and that admitted during the trial to conducting multiplier bet business in VIP rooms run by the junket group; Tim Chau Chun Hee, who during the trial admitted that he had invested in entities dedicated to multiplier bet business; and Ali Celestino, described in court as a former Suncity Group executive helping to run the group’s information technology.
The defendants convicted by the Court of First Instance can appeal to the Court of Second Instance within 20 days, according to judge Lou.
The judge said Mr Chau was found to have been involved in running for years a form of illegal, under-the-table betting for high rollers in Macau, referred to by some commentators and government officials as the “multiplier”. She said additionally that the Suncity Group was also linked to such illegal activities.
With the multiplier, the bet denominated at the casino gaming table actually represents a bet made privately that can be a multiple many times the ‘official’ one, thus avoiding paying on some bets Macau’s effective 39-percent tax rate on casino gross gaming revenue.
Judge Lou said in her Wednesday comments that Mr Chau – despite claiming not to have taken part in the under-table-bet operation – did have knowledge of such illicit activities. She added that several departments of Suncity Group had even provided support to such activities.
Fraud, proxy betting charges
The judge also stated the under-table-bet operation conducted by Mr Chau and some of the other defendants was a swindle on the Macau government and the city’s six casino operators, interfering with the proper process of taxation, and affecting the ability of the operators to obtain profit from their clients.
During the trial, Mr Chau – who was arrested in November 2021 – denied any wrongdoing. His defence noted that Suncity Group had no commercial need to seek illicit gains from under-the-table betting via the “multiplier”, as the company had a huge gaming business, generating billions of patacas in taxation for the Macau government.
The defendants were accused of running a criminal syndicate that allegedly cheated the Macau government out of about HKD8.26 billion (US$1.05 billion) in tax revenue from 2013 to 2021, according to a copy of the indictment. The closing arguments in the criminal case concluded in early December.
A number of the city’s casino operators are also complainants in the case, claiming millions of U.S. dollars from Suncity Group. These include Wynn Macau Ltd, MGM China Holdings Ltd, SJM Holdings Ltd, Sands China Ltd, and Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. These firms are separately claiming civil damages for losses allegedly arising from under-the-table betting linked to Suncity Group.
Mr Chau and six of the convicted defendants have also been ordered to pay over HKD8.67 billion to the Macau government and a number of the city’s casino operators, as a form of compensation.
Regarding proxy bets, another strand to the case, the judge on Wednesday said that even if such activities were legal in the Philippines – where Suncity was said to have had licensed gaming activities in casinos – the prosecution had proven that such activities were also being promoted to clients in Macau, a move that should have been subject to regulatory approval in Macau.
The court had heard that proxy betting involved betting via a mobile phone application linking to the live stream of games hosted in venues overseas. During the course of the trial, the prosecution mentioned that the locations included the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia.
(Updated at 5.20pm, Oct 18)
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