Star Entertainment to face public grilling

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Star Entertainment to face public grilling in March 2022

Star Entertainment will be grilled at public hearings in New South Wales about allegations the company failed to prevent organised criminals and money launderers from infiltrating its Australian casinos.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that senior barrister Adam Bell, SC, who extensively questioned Star’s main rival Crown Resorts, leading to Crown being declared a unit to hold a gaming licence in NSW, will examine Star’s operations at a public hearing in March 2022.

The hearings will likely involve Star’s top brass including chief executive Matt Bekier and board members being summoned to answer questions about their knowledge and management of money laundering risks within the casino group.

It was revealed in early October that Star Entertainment may have enabled suspected money laundering and organised crime within its Australian casinos.

The reports also revealed how Mr Bekier and Star chairman John O’Neill were warned in 2018 that Star’s anti-money-laundering controls were failing.

The media reports also detailed concerns, including those raised by federal MP Andrew Wilkie, that a planned routine five-year review of The Star Sydney’s casino licence would be held behind closed doors.

Behind closed doors review to now be made public

After the reports, NSW Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello, who is in charge of gaming regulation in the state, said he backed a public inquiry into Star.

The NSW gaming regulator, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, has now backed a proposal by its lead independent investigator, Mr Bell, to hold public hearings.

The hearings will form part of the ongoing Australia-wide overhaul of the casino sector triggered by a media expose of Crown Resorts in 2018, which led to subsequent public inquiries into Crown and its major shareholder, James Packer, in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia.

The planned public hearings into Star will examine the allegations detailed in the recent media reports, including the contents of two confidential KPMG inquiries presented to Mr Bekier and other senior executives and directors in May 2018.

The inquiries found Star “may not be adequately detecting customers” engaged in money laundering and had “inadequate resourcing in place” to combat criminal infiltration.

The public hearings are a major blow to Star, which has sought to position itself as the cleanskin of Australia’s gaming sector after Crown’s reputation was shredded by Mr Bell at the NSW Bergin inquiry.

Star refutes media reports that it facilitated alleged money laundering 

Crown’s initial failure to remove executives and board members who had overseen years of sub-standard anti-money laundering controls and its decision to publicly play down allegations of money laundering failures, led to the company’s later savagaing by the Bergin inquiry and counsel assisting Victoria’s royal commission into Crown, Adrian Finanzio, SC.

In statements recently released to the Australian Stock Exchange, Star Entertainment told shareholders it would confidentially address the media allegations, some of which it described as misleading, with regulators and law enforcement authorities.

The company also insisted it had acted on the recommendations of the KPMG reports by adopting an updated anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing program “as a priority in October 2018, and undertaking a program of work to enhance its…compliance framework, under the board’s oversight.”

Over the past fortnight, it has been revealed how anti-money-laundering agency AUSTRAC had obtained internal Star reports that reveal how the listed gaming giant failed to confront money-laundering and terrorism financing risks in its Sydney and Queensland casinos.

It was also revealed that Star casino’s high-roller gaming manager, Mar Walker, maintained a secret and longstanding relationship with accused corporate criminal Michael Gu while the gambler allegedly laundered millions of dollars through Australian casinos.

The revelations about Star Entertainment in the media wiped more than 23 per cent or $1 billion off its market value in two days, although the share price began recovering soon afterwards.

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