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Star manager denies ‘door open’ to crime

Star casino
Star Entertainment chairman John O'Neill is set to face an inquiry into the gambling giant. Photo: AAP
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Star Entertainment’s top risk and legal manager has rejected that the gaming giant’s use of a controversial Chinese debit card scheme at The Star Sydney left the casino “wide open” to infiltration by organised crime.

Paula Martin, Star’s chief legal and risk officer, resumed in the witness stand on Wednesday at a royal commission-style inquiry examining the fitness of the ASX-listed gaming giant to hold a Sydney casino licence.

Ms Martin was quizzed by counsel assisting Naomi Sharp SC over Star’s use between 2013 and 2020 of China Union Pay debit cards at The Star Sydney, in a process where gambling chip purchases were presented as hotel charges.

Around $900 million flowed into the casino until the CUP process was stopped, the inquiry was told, with Ms Martin approving at one point an $11 million lift in high roller Phillip Dong Fang Lee’s cheque cashing facility limit linked to his CUP card.

Ms Sharp put to Ms Martin that it was “entirely conceivable” that the casino’s CUP process might have involved The Star dealing with the proceeds of crime.

“Ms Sharp I think that’s a very broad statement,” she replied.

Ms Martin rejected claims it was “not far fetched” that organised crime figures took advantage of the CUP process, calling it “not a characterisation I would use”.

She also denied that “the reality” at the Sydney casino was that, via the CUP card process, The Star “left its doors wide open to organised crime”.

“I don’t agree with that,” the witness replied.

The casino lawyer also disagreed with Ms Sharp’s suggestion that Star “completely flouted” Chinese capital flight restrictions via the company’s use of the CUP cards.

“No I don’t agree with that,” she said,

“None of your answers to my questions this morning have been frank and candid have they?” Ms Sharp then put to the witness.

“I believe I’m doing my best to do that Ms Sharp,” Ms Martin replied.

Ms Sharp submitted that at no point did Ms Martin “call out” the CUP arrangement as improper or unethical in dealings with lawyers, management or the Star board.

Ms Martin replied: “I would sit here today and say over that time it does not accord with our value of doing the right thing”.

Ms Martin has already conceded at the inquiry being in error claiming legal professional privilege on a KPMG report critical of Star’s anti-money laundering processes, but rejected it was an effort to shield the company from regulators.

The inquiry continues.