Junket partner causes concern among Crown staff

by Ethan Anderson Last Updated
Crown chairwoman fronts casino inquiry 

Employees working for Crown Resorts in Macau said they feared one of the casino’s junket partners, who was linked to a drug syndicate.

The Brisbane Times reports Crown’s chief legal officer Joshua Preston told the ongoing New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority’s inquiry that Crown appears to have been linked to some “unsavoury characters” through its partnership with Ng Chi Un, who operated the “Hot Pot junket” until 2015.

The government inquiry is examining Crown’s fitness to hold a casino licence in the state.

Reports reveal the Hot Pot junket was linked to an international drug trafficking syndicate, known as The Company, and arranged for members of the gang to visit Crown’s Perth Casino in 2015.

When they did, they turned over $800 million in the course of a few days.

Crown rejected the reports as being “unsubstantiated” and part of a “deceitful campaign” against the company.

Mr Preston told the inquiry he made inquiries in the past month into Mr Ng and what a senior member of Crown’s international VIP division, Ari Lee, meant when he described Mr Ng in a 2015 email as a “very influential character” in Macau, regarding its “underground network.”

Mr Preston said Mr Lee did not explain what the “underground network” was, but did tell him that Crown staff in Macau raised concerns about Mr Ng and his associates because they may have been “unsavoury types”.

“They had concerns that if a cheque was going to be banked and if it bounced, they would be potentially concerned about some harassment,” Mr Preston said.

Commissioner grills Crown staff over junket relationship

Commissioner Patricia Bergin, SC, said that she took that to mean “threats of violence”, which was a “very troubling aspect of the relationship” Crown had with Mr Ng and showed a probable link to Triad gangs.

“Here we have a situation where if your staff in Macau were to just simply bank a cheque, that they would be under threat of physical violence from what appears to be standover merchants,” Commissioner Bergin said.

“One way of protecting Crown staff from standover merchants and violence is to step dealing with standover merchants, isn’t it?”

Mr Preston responded that he agreed “entirely”. Crown stopped working with Mr Ng in 2015, he said, but not because of links to organised crime. He did not explain why their relationship ended.

Commissioner Bergin said it appeared Crown now accepted that it did in fact have links to organised crime through Mr Ng.

She said that would have been “hugely significant” for its board to know about before they signed a statement dismissing the media reports last year.

“It would appear through this relationship with Mr Ng, there is a link to some unsavoury characters,” Mr Preston said.

The inquiry also heard from Crown executive Jason O’Connor, who was one of 19 Crown staff arrested in China in October 2016 for illegally promoting gambling and spent 10 months in a Shanghai jail.

Text messages between Mr O’Connor and another senior executive in 2013 revealed illegal “side betting” was happening between a high roller and a junket partner at Crown Melbourne.

He could not recall if he acted on that information.

“I’m surprised to see it in black and white here in front of me,” Mr O’Connor said.

“It’s cheating the casino, it’s revenue that a casino might otherwise generate and appropriately pay tax on.”

Further messages between the pair in 2014 showed that a high roller warned Crown about an impending Chinese government anti-corruption and anti-gambling crackdown.

Mr O’Connor said he wasn’t aware the high roller was connected with the Chinese government. In any event, Crown chose not to act on the warning and kept its staff in the country.

The inquiry will continue public hearings on Thursday.

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