Australia’s ASIC Charges 11 Star Entertainment Executives with Rules Violations

Posted on: December 13, 2022, 03:44h. 

Last updated on: December 13, 2022, 02:33h.

Dropping out of the executive ranks of Star Entertainment before the hammer fell won’t protect certain executives from paying the price for their inadequacies. In the wake of the money-laundering scandal that still haunts the Australian casino operator, 11 former and current high-ranking officials with the company face charges of breaking securities laws.

Former Star Entertainment Chairman John O'Neill
Former Star Entertainment Chairman John O’Neill in a PR appearance for the casino operator. He and 10 other former and current company officials face civil charges from Australia’s securities watchdog. (Image: ABC News)

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is going after the individuals through civil proceedings, according to an announcement by the securities watchdog. It charges them with violating various items of Australia’s Corporations Act.

The list includes former chairman John O’Neill and former Managing Director and CEO Matt Bekier. Also on the list are former Company Secretary and Group General Counsel Paula Martin and former Chief Casino Officer Greg Hawkins. The latter two announced their departures this past May, well after almost all others had jumped ship.

Day of Reckoning

Joining O’Neill and Bekier are nonexecutive directors Kathleen Lahey, Richard Sheppard, Gerard Bradley, Sally Pitkin, Benjamin Heap (currently serving as interim chair), and Zlatko Todorcevski. They all had various roles with the company, with Sheppard and Bradley serving on the company’s audit committee during the time Star was misleading the public and investors.

The board of directors approved Star’s growing relationship with known criminals. It also ignored claims of money laundering that appeared in external audits. The members who, under the Corporations Act, were required to order investigations into the claims simply looked the other way, according to ASIC.

In addition, Bekier, Martin, and Hawkins, in their roles as primary leaders of the company, violated other rules. As the top three executives of the company, they were ultimately responsible for ensuring Star followed all regulations across its footprint.

Lahey and Heap are still with Star, but will depart the company sometime early next year. Their exit is contingent upon new directors coming in.

The 11th man is Harry Theodore, the company’s former chief information officer. Along with Martin, he helped facilitate Star’s dubious manipulation of records to mask VIP spending.

According to the ASIC, Theodore and Martin provided misleading statements to banks regarding how money from Chinese UnionPay cards would be spent. They said the money was for hospitality expenses, not gambling, and Bekier allegedly knew what was happening, as well.

Serious Penalties Await

The ASIC announcement doesn’t specify the number of breaches the 11 may have made. However, the accusations are part of a larger saga that has cost Star hundreds of millions of dollars.

The company allegedly worked closely with failed junket operator Suncity and its former boss, Alvin Chau, who is now on trial in Macau for illegal gambling, money laundering, and other crimes.

In total, Star allegedly allowed Suncity to move at least AUD11 billion (US$7.43 billion) over three years. This is independent of any other questionable activity the operator allowed.

ASIC points out that violations of the Corporations Act carry a fine of AUD1.05 million (US$709,800) for each infraction. Star has already indicated that it will fight the allegations.