Crown VVIP extradited back to China

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Blackstone’s bid for Crown still has hurdles to face

The Crown Casino high-roller and junket operator, known as “Mr Chinatown” – who is also a business partner of the Chinese president’s cousin – has been arrested and extradited to China for suspected money laundering and corruption.

The Age reports that Crown Resorts regarded Tom Zhou as a “very, very important person” and paid him tens of millions of dollars to lure high-rollers from China to Australia, even though he was implicated in foreign influence operations extortion, money laundering and had associations with drug and human traffickers.

Zhou was detained in Vanuatu late last year, but then flew to Japan and onto Fiji, where he was detained again before being deported to China earlier this year as part of a longstanding international “red notice” arrest warrant.

Fiji police confirmed last Friday that Zhou, a dual Australian and Chinese citizen, was held by immigration authorities before being flown to China.

His dramatic detention comes as his multi-million dollar gambling empire in Australia – which he built on the back of his dealings with Crown – is collapsing amid media attention and investigations by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

His arrest has also been noted by the Five Eyes intelligence community, sources said, and senior ministers had also been briefed, a source in Canberra confirmed.

Corporate records show Zhou was a business partner of millionaire Ming Chai, the cousin of Chinese president Xi Jinping.

In Australia, Zhou set up a network of Chinese Communist party influence organisations under the auspice of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front operation and supported by the Chinese consulate in Melbourne, even though he was subject to a longstanding Interpol red notice.

According to court files and briefings from local and overseas security sources, Zhou also operated with the triads – Chinese organised crime groups which run money laundering, human trafficking and drug trafficking rackets in Australia and Asia and who have historically run casino high-roller tours known as junkets.

Zhou’s activities ultimately drew intense attention from ASIO, as revealed by The Age and 60 Minutes reports in 2019 that sparked a series of state and federal investigations.

His detention and extradition from Fiji appears to be a by-product of intensive efforts by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission to attack organised crime groups who penetrated Crown and other casinos, forcing figures such as Zhou to move their operations overseas.

The ACIC’s covert operations targeting industrial-scale money laundering was flagged by the agency’s chief, Mike Phelan, last July, when he revealed it was “actively addressing the significant risks of money laundering through casinos, particularly through casino junkets.”

But at the height of his powers, Zhou was flying around Australia with Ming Chai on private jets chartered by Crown or other Australian casinos.

He donated $26,600 to New South Wales Labor in 2015, met Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews at a 2012 function that Zhou helped host and, that same year, formed a business directed by the premier’s former adviser Mike Yang.

Zhou lived in affluent Melbourne suburb of Toorak

Leaked casino files show Crown paid Zhou and his agents – who he controlled from his palatial Toorak home in Melbourne – tens of millions of dollars to lure high-roller gamblers from China.

Crown paid Zhou’s representative at its Perth casino $28 million in a single financial year.

Between 2012 and late 2016, Crown was keen to please Zhou and the high rollers he brought to Australia by vouching for them through the visa process.

In one leaked email, Crown staff prepare to vouch to Australian visa officials about a high roller on the basis that he was “referred by Crown VVIP Mr Zhou” and because “Crown staff…has known Mr Zhou for more than 10 years.”

Crown so valued its relationship with him that casino contractors told The Age and the Herald the casino agreed to let him run a boutique gift shop on its premises.

Even after the relationship cooled in late 2016, Zhou earned commissions from Crown via his shadowy network of junket sub-agents.

Court files allege that Zhou had a second source of funds through suspected organised crime activity, including extortion and money laundering.

He has been accused in various Chinese courts of extortion, standover tactics and even arranging for acid to be thrown in a man’s face.

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