Australia Casino Giant's Shares Fall After Reports Asian Gangs Laundered Cash
(Bloomberg) -- Crown Resorts Ltd. may be investigated by Australia’s parliament after reports that an Asian crime syndicate allegedly laundered money through the Melbourne-based company’s casinos.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, along with the 60 Minutes television program, reported at the weekend that Crown used junket operators with links to drug traffickers as it sought to bring higher-roller Chinese gamblers to its Australian casinos.
The reports, which cited unidentified law enforcement officials, further examined China’s crackdown on the company, which saw 19 current and former employees convicted in 2017 of illegally promoting gambling.
Crown said in a statement it had a “robust process for vetting junket operators” that are regularly reviewed, and denied knowingly exposing its staff to the risk of conviction in China. The company, whose biggest shareholder is currently Australian billionaire James Packer, fell 3.2% in Sydney trading on Monday, the most in more than three months.
Independent lawmaker Andrew Wilkie, a long-time critic of the gambling industry, called on the Australian government to establish a parliamentary committee, which could potentially hold public hearings into the allegations raised in the report and require witnesses to testify.
“This has reached a point where the Australian government has to pay attention,” Wilkie said.
Crown -- which has casinos in Melbourne, Perth and another under construction in Sydney -- said it had a comprehensive anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing program that was subject to supervision by the financial crimes agency, Austrac.
According to the reports, two Australian ministers approached domestic border-control authorities in a bid to speed up immigration clearances for Crown’s big-spending overseas customers. Jacqui Lambie, among the independent lawmakers who collectively hold the balance of power in Australia’s Senate, said the reports showed the country now needs a national anti-corruption body.
The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation said it is “continuing to consider the well-publicized events regarding Crown’s international commission-based business and its international sales team in China.”
The Gaming and Wagering Commission of Western Australia, which oversees Crown’s gaming activities in Perth, said: “When any issues related to Casino regulation under our act are raised with the regulator they are investigated, as has happened in the past and will continue to do so.”
In a statement, Austrac said it’s “actively addressing the significant risks of money laundering through casinos, particularly through casino junkets.” The agency said it wouldn’t comment further on any operational activities.
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