Finance Star ‘straight out’ laundered Macau cash

Star ‘straight out’ laundered Macau cash

Star casino
Star Entertainment's outgoing chairman John O'Neill will give evidence at the NSW gaming inquiry. Photo: AAP
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Star Entertainment Group “straight out” laundered money in Macau by providing false documents to the Bank of China about the source of account deposits.

The claim has been voiced at an inquiry into the fitness of The Star Sydney to hold a casino licence.

The NSW gaming regulator is probing whether the Sydney casino has been subject to criminal infiltration, and if the venue’s casino licence should be stripped.

Star general manager of finance and commercial Michael Whytcross gave evidence on Wednesday about arrangements put in place to get money from Macau into Australia amid tightening controls at overseas banks.

During his third day on the stand, Mr Whytcross was grilled over what he knew about claims Star staff members in Macau provided false documents to the bank, indicating funds came from a Star cage in Macau when no such cage existed.

In fact, the inquiry was told the funds deposited with the bank in Macau were passed by players to Star workers, who then deposited into the casino operator’s accounts, with the bank subsequently treating the deposits as those of Star.

The inquiry was told the practice was authorised by two senior Star managers.

“It’s straight out laundering of funds,” counsel assisting Naomi Sharp put to Mr Whytcross.

“I would consider it a very significant misrepresentation,” the witness replied.

Asked whether Star was providing, via the “fabricated documents”, an untrue explanation to the bank of where the funds had come from, Mr Whytcross said, “yes, I would agree with that. I would agree that the letters provided do … that”.

“Isn’t that money laundering,?” Ms Sharp asked.

“It would be certainly a high risk of money laundering, yes,” Mr Whytcross replied.

Three types of “utterly false” documents were handed by Star to the bank in Macau, in what was described at the inquiry as a “very large management fail”.

Adam Bell SC, at the helm of the inquiry, queried the witness over whether the false letters, which came to light in October 2021, showed Star making “serious and deliberate” misrepresentations to the bank.

“Yes, I believe so,” Mr Whytcross said.

Star’s Bank of China accounts were shut in late 2017 after they were flagged as high risk due to money laundering concerns, the inquiry has previously been told.

Earlier, the inquiry was told Star Entertainment offered overseas players the option to deposit funds in Australia via a company called EEIS – a subsidiary of the gaming operator – “to disguise the fact they were making deposits to a casino”.

Through EEIS accounts, around $227 million in credits and $227 million in debits were transferred in 752 transactions between May 2018 and November 2021.

Asked to clarify whether he had “no idea” about the allegedly disguised EEIS arrangement, Mr Whytcross said: “I would agree it’s a lack of transparency”.

Also on Wednesday, the inquiry was told of a deal with a Macau-based man named Quan Koi to move funds to the casino’s account, with that channel shifting about $150 million between January 2018 to August 2019.

Mr Whytcross, when shown internal casino records relating to Mr Koi’s services, denied that he would have had “laser-like” focus on deposits into Star accounts from a third-party remitter, and payments moved via junket operators.

Ms Sharp characterised the actions of Mr Whytcross as “incredibly incompetent”.

The regulator probe continues as pressure mounts on Star, with law firm Slater and Gordon on Tuesday filing a class action against the company over claims of “misleading or deceptive representations” about regulatory compliance.

Damning evidence about practices at the casino prompted the resignation this week of Star Entertainment chief executive Matt Bekier.

The inquiry continues.