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Former NAB manager quizzed on Star scheme

Star casino
Star's lawyer says the company should now keep its licence after the departure of senior staff. Photo: AAP
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A former NAB relationship manager says he had no understanding that terminals the bank provided at Star Entertainment’s Sydney casino were being used to purchase gambling chips in breach of rules.

A royal commission style inquiry is probing ASX-listed Star after media reports claiming the company enabled suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference at its venues, including The Star Sydney.

It has prompted a clean out at the gambling giant including of managing director and chief executive, Matt Bekier, chief financial officer Harry Theodore, chief casino officer Greg Hawkins, and chief legal and risk officer Paula Martin.

Star Entertainment executive chairman John O’Neill is scheduled to give evidence this week just days after flagging that he would step down from the board.

On Monday, the inquiry heard evidence from Andrew Bowen, former director of institutional banking industrials sector at NAB, who was quizzed about what he knew of terminals at The Star Sydney where China Union Pay cards were swiped.

The inquiry has been told that CUP card transactions were disguised as hotel accommodation charges to buy gambling chips in breach of China Union’s rules.

There has been evidence given that about $900 million flowed into the casino until the CUP process, which raised internal concerns about potential money laundering, was stopped in 2020.

Mr Bowen said his understanding was that the NAB-installed terminals were located at Star Sydney’s hotel, and “were not to be used for gaming or gambling related purposes”.

“They were to be used for hotel and other expenses ,” said Mr Bowen who was NAB’s relationship manager for The Star between 2012 to 2019.

He was asked if he had any understanding in 2016 or 2017 that in fact CUP cards were swiped for the “ultimate purpose” of purchasing gaming chips.

“I had no knowledge of that,” Mr Bowen said.

He was also questioned about what he thought of transactions valued at between $20,000 and $200,000 being swiped at the terminals, saying VIP patrons at Star “could easily” spend such amounts, including on the company’s private jet.

“They could pay for anything outside of gaming so hotels, entertainment, flights, tours, shopping, meals, alcohol,” he said.

Also due to give evidence on Monday is Star director Richard Sheppard.

Many of Star’s directors are expected to step down after testimony of mismanagement, making way for renewal at the embattled company.

Directors Sally Pitkin and Gerard Bradley have already announced their intention to step down from the board.

The inquiry continues before Adam Bell SC.

– AAP