Crown Melbourne tops list of Aussie junket transactions

By William Brown Updated
Blackstone’s bid for Crown still has hurdles to face

The majority of transactions involved junket tours in Australia were at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, a new report has revealed.

The Herald Sun reports that 295 transactions linked with junkets were made in Melbourne, according to figures from Australia’s financial crimes watchdog.

In total, the Victorian casino made 50,000 reports to the watchdog in 2019, including almost 5000 relating to suspicious transactions.

Austrac warned junket tour operators this month they were the target of organised criminal syndicates and foreign spies seeking to launder money through casinos and potentially make political donations.

Junkets bring in high roller gamblers from China to casinos and extend credit to them, enabling them to get around Beijing’s tight controls on capital.

Austrac introduced a new risk assessment that identified some tour operators had links with criminal organisations.

Businesses, including casinos, are required to report any people or transactions that could be linked with crime using a suspicious matter report.

Austrac chief executive Nicole Rose said casinos needed to comply with the rules to disrupt criminal activities, including foreign interference.

“Money laundering and financial crime enables serious criminal activity such as drug trafficking and human trafficking, which causes harm to our communities,” Ms Rose said.

“I urge casinos to take prompt action by assessing their levels of risk posed by junket operators, strengthening their controls and reporting suspicious activity to Austrac.”

Crown confirmed in November it had suspended all junket operators until June 2021 while a “comprehensive review” of company practices was completed.

“The board has determined that Crown will permanently cease dealing with all junket operators, subject to consultation with gaming regulators in Victoria, Western Australia and NSW,” a Crown statement to the ASX said.

“Crown will only recommence dealing with a junket operator if that junket operator is licensed or otherwise approved or sanctioned by all gaming regulators in the states in which Crown operates.”

The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority has been investigating Crown over its partnerships with junket operators allegedly linked with organised crime.

Crown delayed the opening of a new casino in Sydney until after the inquiry hands down its findings in 2021.

Earlier this month, Austrac announced it was investigating Crown for potential breaches of anti-money laundering laws at its Melbourne venue.

Austrac reports on junket operators and Aussie casinos

A report by Australia’s financial crimes watchdog has revealed that junket tour operators are being targeted by organised criminal syndicates.

The Age reported in mid-December that tax evasion, visa misuse, links to sanctioned entities and possible corruption are among the activities uncovered by the watchdog.

A new risk assessment by AUSTRAC identified a number of junket tour operators with links to criminal organisations including drug traffickers, and others with links to foreign political parties or governments, raising concerns about the threat of foreign interference.

Transactions indicated foreign spies or their proxies could be using money held in casino accounts to make political donations with a link to foreign interference activities.

Money launderers were also exploiting casinos’ reliance on junket operators to launder dirty funds through casino bank accounts and high-roller rooms.

Junkets bring wealthy Chinese high rollers to overseas casinos and extend them credit with which to gamble, circumventing Beijing’s tight capital controls.

They have become an important part of Crown Resorts and Star Entertainment’s businesses in recent years.

Junket operators have been a focus of this year’s explosive New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry into Crown.

It was revealed in 2019 that many of Crown’s junket partners had links to organised crime syndicates, triggering the ILGA inquiry, which is reassessing Crown’s suitability to hold a licence for its new Sydney casino.

ILGA ordered Crown to delay opening the Barangaroo casino until the inquiry delivers its recommendations, which are due February 1.

Junket operations have in effect been suspended since Australia shut its international borders in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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