Crown chairwoman quizzed on money laundering at casino
The NSW inquiry into Crown Resorts’ suitability to hold a casino licence in the state has heard Crown chairwoman Helen Coonan conceded the casino giant facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne casino.
The Age reports Ms Coonan blamed the oversight on “ineptitude” rather than the company deliberately “turning a blind eye” to criminals banking their dirty cash with the company.
The comments made in evidence to the inquiry came a day after the financial crimes watchdog, AUSTRAC, said it was formally investigating Crown for potential breaches of anti-money laundering laws.
During her second day of evidence at the inquiry, Ms Coonan was asked about Crown’s relationship with its largest high-roller “junket” tour partner, Suncity, which is run by the alleged former Macau triad member Alvin Chau.
Suncity operated a private gaming room at Crown Melbourne up until late last year when the Macau-based junket shut it down following reports about Mr Chau’s criminal links.
A series of reports by the masthead triggered an inquiry, which will recommend whether Crown should keep the licence for its new Barangaroo casino.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Naomi Sharp, SC, challenged the former Howard government minister on why Crown did not shut Suncity’s private room even after multiple red flags were raised that indicated money laundering was occurring within the gaming parlour.
Red flags raised by Wilkie in 2017
Those red flags included 2017 footage, leaked by Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, of tens of thousands of dollars in cash being taken from a blue cooler bag and exchanged for chips.
AUSTRAC queried with Crown in 2017 about why it was working with Mr Chau given his apparent criminal background, with a Crown audit discovering $5.6 million in cash stored in a cupboard in the private room in 2018, in breach of a $100,000 cash limit.
“Isn’t this a quintessential example of Crown Resorts turning a blind eye to the prospects of money laundering at its casino?” Ms Sharp asked.
“It may have been ineptitude or lack of attention,” Ms Coonan said.
“I don’t think it was deliberately turning a blind eye, I do think that’s a different adjectival conclusion.”
Commissioner Bergin said that, even assuming the failure was the result of “ineptitude” and “lack of attention”, Crown’s failure to stop the suspicious activity occurring could lead to a situation where people knew they could launder money at Crown.
“The community loses because you’ve got money laundering in your casino; and Crown loses because it’s seen as an inept company lacking in attention,” she said.
“And…the bystander could reasonably conclude that this conglomerate of ineptitude, lack of attention and failing to intervene facilitated money laundering. Would you not agree with that?”
“Yes,” Ms Coonan said.
“It was the turning the blind eye that I didn’t agree with, which I think is a different degree of understanding.”
Asked later to confirm her view, Ms Coonan added that Crown’s failings had “enabled” money laundering.
Ms Coonan said Crown had dealt with junket partners in the past who were not of “good repute”, including under her watch as a Crown director since 2010.
The closure of Australia’s borders due to the coronavirus pandemic has brought Crown’s international VIP business to a standstill.
Ms Coonan said Crown would either have higher due diligence standards for junkets or not work with them at all.
Ms Coonan said she was confident Crown was “ready and suitable” to open its new $2.2 billion casino at Barangaroo in December, with improvements underway at the group including the recruitment of a new “head of compliance and financial crimes” to oversee its under-resourced anti-money laundering team.