Crown appoints new anti-money laundering adviser

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Merger of Crown and Star would be subject to ACCC inquiry 

Crown Resorts has poached its new anti-money laundering adviser from law enforcement.

The Brisbane Times reports the gaming giant made the hire of John Yates, the former Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s Melbourne operations manager.

The choice has divided those in law enforcement circles, the article said.

Critics describe the appointment as posing a significant perceived conflict of interest, while supporters said it would enable Crown to implement vital reforms.

Australia’s peak crime-fighting body, ACIC has spent the past three years targeting Suncity, Crown’s key partner and high-roller tour operator.

Mr Yates oversaw much of that work.

Damning evidence is being aired daily at a New South Wales inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence in the state, with suggestions of lax internal controls allowing money laundering by Asian organised crime bosses.

Former NSW judge, Patricia Bergin, SC, is leading the inquiry and has described Crown’s anti-money laundering controls at its Melbourne casinos as having “reached debacle levels”.

According to casino industry and law enforcement sources, the hiring of Mr Yates as Crown’s compliance expert suggests the company realises its best chance to retain its gaming licence in NSW and avoid regulatory fallout in Melbourne and Perth is to overhaul its internal anti-money laundering systems.

The inquiry is entering its biggest fortnight, with Ms Bergin summonsing key Crown shareholder James Packer, as well as board members.

Last week, Crown chief executive Ken Barton admitted to the inquiry that the ASX-listed gambling giant could have done more to vet its business partners for links to organised crime and prevent money laundering at its casinos in Melbourne and Perth.

Under criminal laws, Mr Yates is prevented from using any information he gained at the ACIC in his new job.

Several senior former and serving police who have worked with him stressed that he had the expertise and determination to combat money laundering.

Serving and former investigators familiar with Mr Yates’ work also said the appointment posed an obvious perceived conflict of interest.

The ACIC has since 2017, been investigating the same money-laundering suspects that Crown has partnered with for years.

Mr Yates has been overseeing and participating in those investigations, but he will be unable to share the details of those probes with Crown under ACIC’s strict non-disclosure regime.

Preferential visa treatment for Crown high-rollers, inquiry finds

A government inquiry has found Home Affairs gave preferential visa treatment to Crown Resorts’ high-rollers.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in early September that the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity found poor record keeping by officials responsible for examining Crown’s high-roller clients who arrived in charter jets, noting that some travellers may have escaped proper baggage checks.

It also found people were issued visas who had previously been refused entry on character grounds. 

While the report made no findings of corruption, ACLEI also reveals that a border force official who worked as a bodyguard for a Crown-linked organised crime boss Tom “Mr Chinatown” Zhou quit his government role in January after being questioned about his conduct.

Mr Zhou, who was recently arrested overseas and extradited to China, was a so-called junket agent for Crown, whose job was to lure high-rollers, mainly from China, to the casino’s gambling tables.

According to the ACELI report released on Tuesday, the now former border force officer “did not declare, or receive approval from the ABF for secondary employment with the junket agent.”

“He was employed by the junket agent as a bodyguard, mainly as a show for the junket agent’s associates,” the ACLEI inquiry found.

“He should have been aware that his employment could have created a perceived conflict of interest.”

The former border force officer also revealed to ACELI investigators that he helped broker the potential purchase of a Vanuatu casino by Mr Zhou.

Mr Zhou’s extensive dealings with Crown were exposed in 2018.

The reporting at the time revealed the ABF officer’s dealings with Mr Zhou, and prompted both the ACLEI inquiry and an ongoing public inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence in New South Wales.

The ACLEI inquiry report makes clear the organisation only has the power to act on findings of corruption, rather than issues of maladministration that may have endangered the nation’s border security.

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