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Crown Casino whistleblower alleges gambling giant skirting money-laundering laws
By state political reporter Richard Willingham
15 OCTOBER 2019
In a private room in Melbourne’s Crown Casino, a man wearing tracksuit pants and runners approaches a counter with a rectangular blue cooler bag.
- The CCTV footage shows a punter exchanging hundreds of thousands of dollars for gambling chips
- The whistleblower claims foreign high rollers avoid customs inspections and exchange a huge amount of cash with no trace
- Crown Casino denied the allegations, saying it had a strong history of compliance with its obligations
Calmly, he unzips the bag to reveal its contents: dozens of thick, neatly stacked bundles of Australian $50 and $100 notes.
*The bricks of cash are casually exchanged for gaming chips for the punter, who is inside a special junket room at the Southbank casino for the SunCity group.
*His bag contains hundreds of thousands of dollars.
*Crown Casino is obliged to report all transactions over $10,000 to the country’s anti-money laundering authority, AUSTRAC.
These types of transactions are not uncommon, as CCTV footage from a whistleblower obtained by the ABC show.
But leaked reports from the Victorian Gambling watchdog in 2017 detailed concerns from inspectors about these types of transactions and the lack of record-keeping by the gambling giant.
One whistleblower says foreign high-rollers often fly to Australia on private jets, avoiding customs inspections, and exchanging huge amounts of cash with no trace.
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg about what is going on at Crown. I think Crown are a law unto themselves,” the whistleblower said.
“Money is coming in illegally.
“You don’t know where [the cash] has come from, you don’t know if it’s the result of drug trafficking, of prostitution or child exploitation. You just don’t know.”
‘No basis for allegations’: Crown
*SunCity is a Macau-based junket operator that flies in wealthy Chinese gamblers to casinos in Australia.
It has a dedicated gaming room within Crown’s Melbourne casino.
Inspectors for the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) raised serious concerns in reports about these transactions in the junket operator rooms because there was “a lack of recording of such transactions within Crown systems”.
It also says that staff on the floor, when questioned about the large transactions, replied that it was a matter between the junket operator and their punters.
A Crown spokesperson said there was no basis to these allegations.
“Crown has a comprehensive Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Counter-Terrorism Financing (CTF) program, which has been and continues to be subject to ongoing regulatory supervision by AUSTRAC,” the spokesperson said.
“Crown provides a range of information in a proactive manner in accordance with its regulatory obligations, including the reporting of all transactions over $10,000, international funds transfer instructions and the reporting of suspicious transactions of any value.
“Crown has a strong history of compliance with and commitment to its AML/CTF obligations and we work closely with law enforcement and regulatory agencies in support of that commitment.”
*The casino is also limited from disclosing which agencies it shares information with.
The commission reports also described how in one case, the VCGLR instructed Crown to cease business with a junket operator, but it was rejected.
The VCGLR said as one of many regulators, it worked with other agencies including Victoria Police and AUSTRAC.
“If the VCGLR becomes aware of matters that fall outside of its remit, such as money laundering and criminal activity, the VCGLR has systems in place to ensure that these matters are referred to the relevant agency in a timely matter,” a spokeswoman said.
She encouraged anyone with information about alleged breaches by the casino to make a complaint.
A tough year
This year, Crown Casino was in the spotlight following an expose in the Nine newspapers alleging Crown was doing business with several junket operators who had links to Asian crime gangs.
Crown has denied any wrongdoing and hit out at Nine’s reporting, labelling it a “deceitful campaign”.
Last year, the sixth review of Crown’s licence recommended that Crown undertake “a robust review (with external assistance)” of relevant controls to ensure that anti-money laundering risks are addressed.
*The whistleblower has also taken his concerns to federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who will attempt to set up a royal commission into the matter.
*“There’s now huge questions for politicians to answer because there’s no way Crown would be being involved in criminal activity on that scale unless it felt it had top cover,” Mr Wilkie said.
“Any reasonable person looking at that footage would straight away draw the conclusion that there was money laundering going on and that Crown must be somehow covering it up and that at least the Victorian gambling regulator is not looking into this properly.”
In 2017, the ABC reported allegations that Crown Casino was not complying with requirements to report major transactions to AUSTRAC.
Other allegations included that the casino had tampered with poker machine buttons illegally.
It denied all charges but it was later fined for removing buttons from a handful of its poker machines without approval.
Victoria’s auditor-general in 2017 also attacked the VCGLR for not paying “sufficient attention” to key risks, including money laundering.
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