News Crown ignored junket money review: Inquiry

Crown ignored junket money review: Inquiry

Crown has paid $125 million to settle a class action lawsuit from thousands of shareholders. Photo: Getty
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Crown was exposed to money laundering as it had little awareness of where cash used by players in junket groups came from, a royal commission has heard.

The inquiry into whether the casino giant remains suitable to keep its licence for its Melbourne operations on Tuesday zeroed in on Crown’s relationship with junket operators.

These operators brought customers to the casino in exchange for a cut of their gambling losses.

Crown would be informed how much money the groups had to play to with – figures that often reached “many millions of dollars”.

But the individual players within the junket groups were afforded a level of “anonymity”, counsel assisting Adrian Finanzio SC told the second day of public hearings.

Mr Finanzio asked Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation’s Jason Cremona whether anonymity was “an important ingredient in successful money laundering”.

Mr Cremona, who heads the VCGLR’s license and management audit team, said this was correct.

The regulator recommended in July 2018 that Crown set up procedures to create more transparency around individual players’ financial contributions to junket groups.

These minimum standards, Mr Cremona said, would “ensure those contributions were not from illicit activities”, and had to be enacted within one year.

“The VCGLR wanted to see the same level of transparency in junket players as other premium players,” Mr Cremona told the hearing.

“At the very least, they saw this as a way of minimising anti-money laundering risk.”

Mr Cremona told the hearing he had written two letters to Crown, seeking updates regarding this recommendation, within six months of the review.

“I would have hoped Crown would take recommendations like this seriously,” Mr Cremona said.

He received no response from Crown until January 2019, when the gaming giant said it had been discussing the matter with financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC.

But in a private meeting between AUSTRAC and the VCGLR in February 2019, it was revealed discussions with Crown had been “brief” and “potentially unrelated” to the anti-money laundering recommendation.

Mr Cremona added that these changes could have been made within a matter of minutes.

The inquiry earlier heard Crown lied to the VCGLR about what it knew of China’s foreign casino crackdown after its own staff were arrested overseas.

The regulator looked into the arrests of 19 Crown staff in China in 2016.

All were charged with gambling promotion offences, and remain the subject of an ongoing class action against Crown.

The royal commission was set up by the Andrews Labor government after a NSW inquiry found Crown unsuitable to run its newly built casino in Sydney’s Barangaroo.

That inquiry found Crown facilitated money laundering, partnered with junket operators with links to organised crime groups even after being made aware of these connections, and exposed staff to the risk of detention in China.

Other witnesses set to be questioned this week include Crown’s head of financial crime and money laundering reporting, Nick Stokes.

Former Federal Court judge Raymond Finkelstein QC is overseeing the royal commission.