Home Affairs and Crown Resorts face probe on VIP visas

By Ethan Anderson Updated
Royal commission hears that Crown was reluctant to implement tighter money laundering controls

Public hearings are set for next week in relation to corruption claims surrounding Crown Resorts’ international high-roller program.

The Age reports that the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) will take the unprecedented step in launching public hearings next week as it escalates its investigation into these allegations.

Michael Griffin, the head of the ACLEI, said the hearings will examine interactions between Crown and the Department of Home Affairs that “raise issues of corruption.”

The Morrison government referred the allegations to the ACLEI in July following revelations by The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes in which Crown Resorts had partnered with tour companies backed by organised crime syndicates implicated in drug running, money laundering and human trafficking, in order to attract wealthy Chinese gamblers.

Leaked emails are alleged to have revealed an apparent cosiness between Crown and Australian visa and consulate officials in China, who have often fast-tracked visas for wealthy gamblers to head to Crown venues in Melbourne and Perth, despite some posing potential security risks or being persons of interest to law enforcement.

“While over its 13-year history ACLEI has primarily chosen to progress investigations through the use of private hearings, the matters raised by the Attorney General in his referral to me, and the significant public interest in those matters, has led me to conclude that this particular investigation will be best served by hearing matters in public where appropriate,” Mr Griffin said.

Hearings to commence next week

The hearings commence next Tuesday where executives from Crown Resorts and officials from the Department of Home Affairs will begin being briefed before the public hearings. The inquiry will be led by leading NSW barrister David McClure SC, who has worked on some of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Tax Office’s highest-profile cases.

A part of the ACLEI’s inquiry will focus on how a serving Border Force official, Andrew Ure, was able to provide private protection for an international fugitive and Crown high-roller recruiter, known as a junket agent, in possible breach of strict professional standards.

The investigation by The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes revealed that Mr Ure worked at least once for junket agent Tom Zhou. Mr. Zhou is wanted by Interpol for serious crimes and has been implicated in Chinese influence activities in Australia.

It was also revealed last week that a businessman blacklisted by the United Nations and Australia because he funded a war criminal was a Crown Resorts high roller who gambled millions in its VIP rooms.

Joseph Wong was served with financial and travel sanctions by the UN Security Council in 2004 over his relationship with Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. However after this, he repeatedly entered Australia, where he gambled and losing more than $6 million at Crown casinos between 2010 and 2018.

Crown’s executive chairman, John Alexander, has previously said that the company intended to use state and federal inquiries launched into its dealings with Chinese junkets as a “forum to provide our perspective”.

Mr. Alexander has described media reports as sensationalist, adding that it came as “no surprise” that regulators and other agencies launched inquiries as a result.

The ACLEI hearings come as the New South Wales gambling regulator conducts its own inquiry into the gaming giant’s behaviour along with Hong Kong casino tycoon Lawrence Ho’s Melco Resorts’ purchase of a 20% stake in Crown.

The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry, led by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin, SC, will also take evidence in public where they will investigate whether Crown is a “suitable person” to hold a licence for its casino under construction at Sydney’s Barangaroo.

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