One of Asia’s biggest unregulated bookmakers — an alleged organised crime figure with links to Australia — has been identified by state and federal law enforcement as a potential threat to the integrity of sport across the country.
Wei Seng “Paul” Phua, a Malaysian high-roller behind one of the world’s largest unregulated sports betting websites, has also surfaced as a highly valued client of Crown Casino in Melbourne.
An ABC Four Corners investigation confirmed that despite his well known criminal associations, Crown Casino even flew Mr Phua into Melbourne three weeks ago on board one of its corporate jets.
These bookmakers — whose companies are registered in jurisdictions like Manila, Curacao and the Isle of Man — have found large black markets across Asia where sports betting is wildly popular but often illegal.
It is estimated more than two-thirds of all money bet on sport worldwide is bet with these unregulated operators.
“We know that they’re accepting bets roughly of about $2 billion every week,” Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Paterson said.
“It’s estimated globally that the unregulated betting markets that operate across all sports are worth between $1 [trillion] and $3 trillion annually.”
The Four Corners investigation into these bookmakers shed new light on their connections with organised crime and match-fixing syndicates.
The revelations come in the midst of a global match-fixing crisis in tennis, raising new questions about the ability of sport’s governing bodies and police around the world to root out corruption and deter criminal infiltration.
The program has confirmed, for example, that the match-fixing syndicate that in 2013 targeted some members of the Southern Stars Victoria Premier League soccer team — to date the biggest match-fixing scandal to hit Australia — was using opaque Asian bookmakers to place its bets.
Police struggle to understand scale of threat
NSW Police Detective Superintendent Scott Cook said offshore bookmakers posed a risk because they were utterly opaque.
“We don’t really know the full scale of what goes through these businesses,” he said.
“This impacts us in Australia, particularly in NSW, with regard to a lot of sports and other gambling enterprise, simply by virtue of the internet and the transnational nature of what’s going on.
“We don’t fully understand how big it is and I’m not even sure that we can ever determine the parameters or the size of the problem.”
Assistant Commissioner Paterson said Mr Phua’s background was typical of the industry in Asia.
“Paul Phua is a major player, we know that he has links into some of the unregulated betting markets that operate in the Philippines,” he said.
“The FBI operation was able to bring out into the open some of the information that now is known around him, and it gives us great concern the sheer volume of money that passes hands in this area, of the organised crime links in that space as well.”
The FBI alleged, in a Nevada court indictment, that Mr Phua is a “high-ranking member” of the feared Asian crime syndicate, the 14K Triad.
A federal law enforcement source told Four Corners Mr Phua “has bet tens of millions of dollars in Australia”.
The top-level source said Commonwealth investigators identified connections a decade ago between Mr Phua and the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle gang in both Canada and Australia.
Mr Phua declined to respond to questions from Four Corners, as did Crown Casino.
He made a substantial fortune sourcing high-rolling baccarat players from across Asia for Macau’s casinos, setting up a VIP junket called Star 888.
Such junkets are responsible for bringing many billions of dollars into China’s gambling hub, and into other casinos across the world.
Crown Casino declined to say whether Mr Phua had ever brought junket tours to its resorts in Melbourne or Perth.
Mr Phua was first revealed as the secret controller of the massive online gambling website IBC (since rebadged as Maxbet) during the FBI’s investigation in 2014.
Before then, the true owners of the company had been veiled by layers of corporate secrecy.
While Mr Phua has never been successfully prosecuted, Four Corners had established the Malaysian remains under police investigations in multiple jurisdictions.
– reporting by Linton Besser, Justin Stevens and Joel Tozer.