Star hearing turns its attention to $1.7b high roller

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Details emerge of Queensland’s review in Star casinos

A Chinese billionaire purchased $1.7 billion worth of chips at Sydney’s Star casino over a five year period, but there was no investigation into the source of the cash.

The Australian Financial Review reports that Huang Xiangmo made the purchases over five years until 2018, transactions which Star’s senior executives would have been aware of.

Giving evidence to the NSW inquiry into Star, the Star’s general manager of financial crime and investigations Kevin Houlihan agreed it was an “extraordinary” amount of money and “should raise questions about where the money is coming from”.

He said senior executives would have known about Huang Xiangmo’s gambling as he was a top-three debtor to the casino, which was also outlined in a report by the CEO that Mr Houlihan said he expected the Star’s board would have read.

It follows a fortnight of bombshell evidence before the inquiry that Star set up a secret gambling room for Suncity, hid the junket’s illegal cash cage from the NSW regulator and flouted anti-money laundering rules to allow millions of dollars to illegally churn through its Sydney casino.

The revelations have already prompted the resignation of the company’s CEO Matt Bekier, who said he was accountable for issues with Star’s “processes, policies, people and culture”.

ICAC probed Huang’s cash flow

Mr Huang’s use of cash at The Star has previously been probed by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, with the watchdog suggesting that withdrawals from a cage at the casino in April 2015 were given to the state’s Labor Party in illegal donations.

Mr Huang is not allowed to make political donations as a property developer, but ICAC alleged he dropped off an Aldy bag with $100,000 in cash, withdrawn by an associate at the Star, to the state Labor Party’s headquarters in 2015.

He has denied these allegations.

Mr Houlihan said he was not involved in Mr Huang’s transactions and was unaware of them until the hearings.

He said he was never asked to investigate the billionaire’s source of wealth, even though he led Star’s financial crimes investigations.

The Star was aware that Mr Huang used multiple passports with different identities, however, which Mr Houlihan said should have sparked inquiries.

He said that any patron with a buy-in of more than $400 million over three years should have raised questions over his source of wealth.

Star saw no cause for concern about origin of funds

But the inquiry heard that Star’s chief financial crimes officer Skye Arnott wrote in an email to “various” Star executives in March 2018 that Mr Huang was “a high net worth individual who owns significant property and business assets in Australia and China”.

“His source of wealth is transparent and there are no concerns regarding his ability to fund his gambling activity…there is no other open source media to indicate that he is involved in criminal activity.”

The inquiry also heard that when the Australian government cancelled Mr Huang’s visa in 2019 over concerns he was an agent of the Chinese government, the Star contemplated allowing him to keep his account so he could continue funding other players to gamble.

It heard the casino also believed the visa was cancelled due to political concerns rather than criminal activities.

Mr Houlihan agreed such an “approach would be highly inappropriate” and that Mr Huang should have been banned from the Star.

The inquiry also heard the Star continued its relationship with Suncity junket operator Alvin Chau until his arrest last November, despite knowing he may be laundering money from 2019.

It also allowed Suncity patrons who were facing criminal charges related to proceeds of crime, and which were described by a Star investigator as “money laundering” charges, to keep gambling.

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