The Star Entertainment Group’s top legal officer warned a senior executive there was an “unacceptable risk” that notorious junket tour group Suncity was laundering money inside its Sydney casino.
But the May 2018 warning fell on deaf ears, the inquiry into Star’s NSW licence heard on Friday, and Star let Suncity continue to run a private gaming salon at the Pyrmont casino for more than a year after evidence of dirty cash dealings emerged.
The Star Sydney. Credit:Brook Mitchell
Suncity was the biggest junket operator bringing ultra-wealthy Chinese gamblers to Star and its rival Crown Resorts until the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed in 2019 that it had clear links to organised crime.
The inquiry – which was triggered by reports in this masthead last year – heard on Friday from Star’s group general counsel Andrew Power, who said he developed “serious” concerns about Suncity in May 2018 after viewing footage of junket staff handling large bundles of cash in its private salon.
Mr Power said he told Greg Hawkins, Star Sydney’s chief casino officer, in an email that Suncity exposed Star to an “unacceptable” risk of money laundering. He was also aware at that point that NSW police were investigating individuals involved with Suncity, and Suncity staff were refusing to cooperate with the casino’s investigation into its suspicious cash transactions.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Naomi Sharp, SC, put to Mr Power that the appropriate step at that point was for him to recommend that Star kick Suncity out of its private salon.
“I’m not sure that was a decision or recommendation that I was required to make,” Mr Power responded.
Ms Sharp: “Wasn’t the only appropriate thing for the business to do at this point in time [was to] shut down that room?”
“I don’t believe it was the only appropriate action to take,” Mr Power said.
Rather than shut the room, he said Star continued to investigate the suspicious transactions and engaged with law enforcement and the financial crimes watchdog AUSTRAC.
The Star publicly announced in August 2019 that it had shut Suncity’s room after this masthead’s expose into its criminal links. But the inquiry has revealed it simply moved Suncity to another room and did not sever links with it until late 2020.
The Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority said on Friday afternoon that it had extended the Star inquiry by two months to allow “further lines of inquiry” to test its fitness to run a casino. The inquiry will now report its findings by August 31.
Woolworths also announced on Friday that its group treasurer Sarah Scopel would leave the supermarket with “immediate effect” after she admitted to the inquiry that she mislead NAB’s financial crimes team while group treasurer at the casino group.
Ms Scopel had assured NAB that large transactions on Chinese bank cards were hotel expenses rather than gambling charges, which the China UnionPay cards do not permit. She told the inquiry she feared losing her job at Star if she did not mislead the bank.
Star’s chief executive Matt Bekier resigned last week after the first week of the inquiry heard that he furiously rejected a report by KPMG that found the company was failing to tackle money laundering risks in its casinos.
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