News Crime Star let junket with laundering risk go on
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Star let junket with laundering risk go on

Star casino
Star Entertainment chairman John O'Neill is set to face an inquiry into the gambling giant. Photo: AAP
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An agreement with a junket operator linked to Asian triad gangs was renewed despite a high risk of money laundering taking place in the private room where it operated in Star’s Sydney casino.

Agreements between the casino and the Suncity junket operator that brought foreign high-rollers in to gamble forbade the group from handling cash in their private room known as ”Salon 95″.

But CCTV footage shown to Star’s group manager of due diligence and intelligence, Angus Buchanan, at a NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry on Wednesday showed “a very similar activity” taking place.

On multiple occasions, cameras captured bundles of cash being brought into Salon 95 and exchanged.

Written warning issued

Despite the junket operators failing to account for the movement of cash, and being unco-operative with the casino’s investigations team while continuing to violate the terms of their agreement, it was renewed in June 2018. That came a little over a month after a written warning was issued.

In August 2019, Star CEO Matt Bekier suggested to media that Star and Suncity had come to a mutual agreement that the junket would no longer operate.

In fact, according to emails shown to Mr Buchanan, Suncity had told the casino it planned to cease operating Salon 95.

Suncity then moved to Salon 82, absent the signage bearing its name.

“It was still operating at The Star just not under the Suncity banner … we certainly had a room,” Mr Buchanan told the inquiry examining whether the casino should keep its licence on Wednesday.

Prior to joining Star in May 2019, Mr Buchanan worked for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

While there, he finalised an April 2018 report into Suncity, which ran junkets at Star and its rival Crown Resorts, among others.

Allegedly laundering as much as $2m a day

Mr Buchanan met with Australian law enforcement organisations in May 2017 and was told Suncity was allegedly laundering as much as $2 million a day in Australia.

His report concluded Suncity should be denied membership to the HKJC if it ever applied.

Mr Buchanan told the hearing he shared the report with senior executives at Star when he joined the company as an example of what a mature due diligence report to combat money laundering would look like.

He agreed a “secondary reason” for sharing the report was that Suncity was one of The Star’s largest junket operators.

While he was finalising that April 2018 report, surveillance cameras inside Salon 95 were capturing footage that appeared to show Suncity violating its agreements with The Star.

The agreements, which predated Mr Buchanan’s employment, spelled out Star was to retain control of the salon and the conduct of gaming within it.

Suncity was not to operate any ‘cage’

Suncity was not to operate any “cage” (where money and chips are mutually exchanged).

But an enclosed room and a service desk built at the request of Suncity was “very similar in style” to cages in the casino, Mr Buchanan told the hearing.

It was suggested to him that it appeared as though Suncity was in fact operating a cage in Salon 95 with large amounts of cash changing hands.

“It appears to be a very similar activity, yes,” Mr Buchanan said.

Mr Buchanan believed similar desks were not operating when Suncity later moved to Salon 82.

Suncity no longer operates junkets, closing that arm of its business after its CEO Alvin Chau was arrested in late November.

Star has said it has an unwavering focus on preventing criminal activity at its casinos, which also include The Star Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane.

-AAP