Sat, Apr 1, 8:21am by Staff Writer
As China continues a crackdown on its domestic gambling industry – one which infamously ensnared Australian operator Crown Resorts in its dragnet last year – a construction company owned by the Chinese government is angling to build the proposed $3 billion casino resort on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
That news was revealed by Louis Chien, director of the Australian-owned and Chinese-financed ASF Group, during an interview with ABC 7.30.
Responding to questions about ASF Group’s viability in financing the multibillion dollar project, Chien raised the possibility that the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) would eventually be involved:
“That is not out of the realm of possibility,” he said.
“There are no rules or guidelines that say state-owned enterprises cannot have equity stakes in these type of projects.”
“I would say this is something the [Queensland] State [Government] and us have to work through.”
The Sydney-based ASF Group was founded in 2005, billing itself as ‘the new driving force in strategic investment between China and Australia’.
ASF Group has been linked to several ongoing casino construction projects and proposals. Last year it sold the Gold Coast’s Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort to Australia Wattle Development, a firm owned by the Chinese government which in turn sold the property to a Star Entertainment-led consortium.
In December of last year ASF Group submitted a bid to the Queensland government, which is currently considering several proposals to revitalise The Spit with a $3 billion casino project known as the Gold Coast Integrated Resort Development (IRD).
The IRD has yet to be approved by the state, and a community consultation process is ongoing.
As part of the community review, local activist groups working to preserve The Spit and prevent major casino construction have roundly criticized ASF Group’s proposal.
Chief among the complaints is the brevity of the bid, which includes just four pages to describe the planning process for building five hotel towers over a five-hectare plot.
Furthermore, detractors of ASF Group’s involvement point to the bid’s lack of essential components. No gambling operator is mentioned, nor are specifics on the number of gaming tables to be housed onsite.
Doubts have also been raised about ASF Group’s ability to effectively finance such an expensive project, as auditors have cited the company’s combined asset at under $10 million.
Judy Spence, former minister for the Beattie Labor government in Queensland, now holds the position of vice president for the Save Our Broadwater lobbying group, which opposes construction efforts on The Spit. She told ABC that ASF Group is essentially masquerading as a major financier, while relying on the Chinese government to fund its Australian objectives:
“(ASF Group) only has $6 million dollars in net assets. Yet it’s pretending it can build a $3 billion resort.”
Chien defended ASF Group’s financial bona fides to ABC 7.30:
“In essence, we’re an investment incubator.”
“We don’t manage a big balance sheet because we don’t need to … we call on funding when we need it from outside the company.”
As that outside funding ostensibly comes from CSCEC, The Australian has called the Chinese-owned construction and real estate firm’s involvement into question.
Earlier in March, The Oz published a report documenting CSCEC’s entanglement with a previous Queensland casino proposal on Wave Break Island. Quoting well-known Gold Coast town planner Ross Heatley, The Australian linked CSCEC to a rumored billion-dollar lawsuit against Queensland’s government.
Heatley has further criticized CSCEC’s potential ownership of an Australian casino, pointing to the Chinese government’s recent arrest of more than a dozen Crown executives in China.
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