Crown’s court case falls over after interrogation bungle

by William Brown Last Updated
Crown plans for mid-December opening on track 

A former Crown Resorts baccarat dealer and alleged accomplice, charged with stealing more than $400,000 have had the case against them collapse due to security staff making threats against them. 

Brisbane Times reports the three-year court case, where former Crown Casino croupier Michael Hou, 37, and co-accused Yixuan Cui, 24, both made confessions in May 2017, led to police raids of a Southbank apartment, where more than $200,000 in cash and casino chips worth $50,000 were uncovered.

The Office of Public Prosecutions was forced to seek a discontinuance of the trial on Friday, after the County Court and Supreme Court of Appeals found Crown’s heavy handed conduct, where they conducted hours of interrogations that forced admissions from the pair, had tainted the admissions.

The abandoned case has wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and raises serious probity concerns about Crown’s investigators, who interrogated Mr Hou for more than three hours before they were handed over to police. 

Defence lawyers for Mr Hou and Ms Cui will now seek to have more than $250,000, seized under asset confiscation laws, returned to the pair because of the bungling by Crown’s security staff.

The court found that during questioning by Crown staff on May 1, 2017, Mr Hou was threatened with a long prison sentence if he refused to confess, while Ms Cui was warned that her parents and her partner’s parents would face serious consequences back in China.

Crown’s investigators, all former members of Victoria Police, were also found to have claimed they could influence then outcome of a police investigation if Mr Hou and Ms Cui agreed to cooperate with police.

Mr Hou was told by Crown surveillance member Manual Lyberis: “We are just trying to help you mate. It’s like a get-out-of-jail card and you might only get one opportunity.”

Interview recordings not made

Crown’s investigations manager, Jason McHutchison, warned Mr Hou he would “cop the full extent of the law” if he refused to answer questions honestly. 

After telling Mr Hou he had been a detective with Victoria Police for 12 years, Mr McHutchison said he would ask the police to “treat him all right.”

“That’s why we have dealings with the police. That’s my job, to deal with the police…if we tell them…to treat someone good, they’ll treat them good,” he said, according to the judgement.

The general manager of security and surveillance at Crown, Craig Walsh, also a former police officer, was present during some of the interviews.

He told Mr Hou he wanted to be able to tell police he had cooperated, and advised him to consider his family.

Crown’s international investigators arrested Mr Hou and Ms Cui on May 1, when they were taken to a holding room inside Crown’s casino.

One of the rooms was marked “Victoria Police Interview Room”, according to court documents. 

The court noted the pair were never cautioned or informed of their right to silence of legal representation by Crown’s surveillance team. 

The interview with Ms Cui was supposed to have been recorded by a digital device in the possession of Crown investigator Wayne Eagles. 

However, about one hour of the interview, including the entire period when the alleged threats were made by Crown officers, was never recorded, the court head.

Mr Eagles told the County Court he may have accidentally switched off the voice recorder, but could not recall switching it back on. 

When Mr Hou and Ms Cui were finally handed over to detectives from Melbourne West station, they made full admissions, including how the scam worked and how the proceeds of the enterprise were divided. 

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