Star top brass hold off-the-record meetings as Suncity junket saga developed

By Ethan Anderson Updated
Star Sydney has a new CEO

Senior leadership at the Star Entertainment Group had off-the-books meetings during a crisis period in 2019 when its most lucrative high-roller junket partner was exposed as being linked to criminal gangs, drug trafficking and money laundering.

The Australian Financial Review reports the media reports at the time focused on the relationship between casino rival Crown Resorts and Suncity, but the junket operator worked at both casinos.

Giving evidence to an inquiry into Star’s fitness to hold a NSW casino licence, chief legal officer Paula Marin said the board had “calls that were not held as formal meetings and were therefore not minuted” during the scandal.

The revelation came as counsel assisting the inquiry, Naomi Sharp, SC, accused Ms Martin of keeping the board in the dark about Star’s possession of a bombshell Hong Kong Jockey Club report which claimed Suncity and its boss Alvin Chau were linked to criminal gangs and money laundering.

Ms Sharp read out the contents of a board paper from the time, which also failed to mention that two members of Ms Martin’s team, Kevin Houlihan and Angus Buchanan, were sent to the Hong Kong Jockey Club in July 2019, and that they were told by the Australian Federal Police that Suncity was of “current interest”.

“You would agree that the board was not briefed with important information about the allegations insofar as they related to someone like Alvin Chau?” Ms Sharp asked.

“No, I don’t agree with that,” Ms Martin replied.

Earlier, Ms Martin said she did “provide some reports to the board” about the junket business, but did not “specifically recall” mentioning to the board the Hong Kong Jockey Club report was held by The Star.

Inquiry chairman quizzes top legal adviser about secret report

Inquiry chairman Adam Bell, SC, asked if he “would expect to find a mention” of the Star having a copy of the Hong Kong Jockey Club report in board minutes.

Ms Martin responded: “Potentially, Mr Bell, but I do recall at this time we had board calls that weren’t held as formal meetings and therefore were not minuted.”

The inquiry already heard that this document was circulated around Star only in paper form, with one executive testifying she believed she shredded her copy.

A former compliance manager at The Star, Micheil Brodie, told the inquiry on Thursday that if he had been aware of this information allegedly shared among the board and executives, he would have changed his stance on Suncity’s money laundering risk.

He conceded that his seniors failing to “keep him fully informed” compromised his ability to make compliance assessments.

It follows evidence that Star set up a secret gambling room for criminal gang-linked junket operator Suncity; hid Suncity’s illegal cash cage from the NSW casino regulator; sold Chinese billionaires Philip Dong Fang Lee and Huang Xiangmo $2.7 billion and $1.7 billion worth of chips respectively, and may have failed to pay state taxes.

The inquiry is yet to hear from any of the directors involved in the alleged secret meetings.

Outgoing Star CEO to front inquiry in coming days

Star’s outgoing chief executive, Matt Bekier, is slated to give evidence after Anzac Day, and will be followed by executive chairman John O’Neill and most of the company’s board in May.

The inquiry also heard that just months after Star publicly banned high-roller junkets in October 2020, Ms Martin told a special internal meeting that “junkets will be different and heavily scrutinised, but not sure they are dead”.

Ms Martin told the special meeting, held last April and codenamed “Project Zurich”, that Star’s announcement to axe junkets was “reflective of the pressure and intensity at the time and the borders were closed so it was a convenient answer”, according to a note of the meeting made by her staff and sent via email.

Ms Martin said it may be possible to revive junkets despite the NSW Bergin inquiry into Crown Resorts branding them “evil”, observing “that has not been the position in Australia for decades” and the Queensland regulator “may be very comfortable with the business model and level of probity undertaken”.

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