The New South Wales probity inquiry into casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd heard on Tuesday that in June 2017 the Australian financial watchdog AUSTRAC had emailed the firm, telling it that Alvin Chau Cheok Wa (pictured), boss of privately-held casino junket brand Suncity Group, was a “foreign politically-exposed person” and had a “substantial criminal history”.
That contrasted with Crown Resorts’ assertion in a July 2019 announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange that it had a “robust process for vetting junket operators”, and that Suncity had a parent company that was regulated and listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Crown Resorts had worked with Suncity Group at casino-hotel Crown Melbourne for a period up until 2019.
The mention on Tuesday of the email from AUSTRAC – the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre – was made by a lawyer assisting the inquiry.
Tuesday’s hearing was also told that due-diligence investigators acting on behalf of Crown Resorts said in a 2016 report that Mr Chau “appears to have been a former member of the 14K triads Macau branch in the 1990s and was reportedly in charge of loan-sharking and gambling,” later forming “his own gang”.
No further instances were mentioned during Tuesday’s session regarding alleged criminal links of Mr Chau.
Mr Chau is a controlling shareholder of Hong Kong-listed Suncity Group Holdings Ltd, but a spokesperson for that firm said in an email to GGRAsia on Tuesday that “Suncity listco does not have any businesses in Australia,” and that all enquiries regarding dealings between the Suncity brand and Crown Resorts should be directed to the privately-held Suncity Group.
On Monday, AUSTRAC announced it was investigating potential non-compliance at Crown Melbourne regarding anti-money laundering rules and laws to counter terrorism-financing.
Tuesday’s information came in the context of lawyers for the inquiry challenging Crown Resorts’ previous assertions that it had complied with anti-money laundering procedures in terms of its work with Suncity, which had run a VIP gambling facility at Crown Melbourne.
GGRAsia approached privately-held Suncity Group asking for comment on the claims against Mr Chau, and regarding the Suncity junket operation at Crown Melbourne, but had not received a reply by the time this story went online.
In August last year, it was reported Suncity Group was closing down that VIP facility and another at the Star Sydney, in Sydney, New South Wales, a casino operated by the Star Entertainment Group Ltd.
The Suncity brand’s withdrawal from those Australian casino properties came shortly after several Australian news outlets carried reports alleging Mr Chau had criminal links.
The New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, the gaming regulator in that state, is probing whether casino firm Crown Resorts breached a gaming licence it was issued for a new scheme in Barangaroo, Sydney, when the casino firm’s largest shareholder agreed to sell a 19.9 percent stake in the company to casino operator Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd. The deal never went through in full, and Melco Resorts eventually sold off the initial stake in Crown Resorts it did acquire.
Melco Resorts is led by Lawrence Ho Yau Lung, a son of the late and former monopolist of casino business in Macau, Stanley Ho Hung Sun. An entity called Great Respect Ltd, linked to the late Mr Ho, was reportedly banned by the authorities in New South Wales.
The inquiry has heard that Crown Resorts banned Suncity Group from operating its own cash exchange desk in 2018 after it discovered AUD5.6 million (US$3.9 million) in cash stored in the junket’s private room at Crown Melbourne, raising serious concerns about money laundering.
According to media reports, Mr Chau is currently banned from entering Australia due to the Australian authorities’ assertion that he has criminal links.
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”While we recognise we have more work to do, we welcome ILGA’s indication today that Crown’s reform implementation is well-advanced towards suitability to operate gaming at Crown Sydney”
Executive chairman of Australian casino operator Crown Resorts