Crown Resorts Chair Admits AML Breaches, Claims ‘Incompetence’

Posted on: October 20, 2020, 03:02h. 

Last updated on: October 20, 2020, 03:48h.

Crown Resorts chair Helen Coonan told a licensing suitability investigation in Sydney on Tuesday that she accepted her company had facilitated money laundering. But she blamed it on “ineptitude” rather than criminal intent.

Crown Resorts
Helen Coonan was grilled about the company’s relationship with Suncity. (Image: The Australian)

The New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority has been examining whether the Australian casino giant should retain its Sydney license. The scrutiny comes in the face of press allegations of anti-money laundering breaches and criminal connections.

The company expects to open a $2 billion casino resort on the Sydney waterfront at the end of the year, and a gambling license would seem to be an indispensable component of that plan.

But Coonan was quizzed on Tuesday about Crown’s relationship with Suncity, the world’s biggest junket operator. That company’s CEO, Alvin Chau, has been barred entry to Australia over allegations he is or was a member of the 14K triads.

AUSTRAC Interest in Suncity

The counsel assisting the inquiry, Naomi Sharp SC, revealed that the Australian financial investigator, AUSTRAC, wrote to Crown Resorts in 2017 demanding to know why it was still doing business with Suncity. Chau was a “foreign PEP” (politically exposed person) with a “substantial” criminal history, the investigator alleged.

That revelation on Tuesday came 24 hours after Crown wrote to the Australian Securities Exchange to inform investors it was now under investigation by AUSTRAC for potential violations of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act.

Even after evidence emerged of money laundering by people connected with Suncity, Crown failed to shut down the junket operator’s private VIP room at the Crown Melbourne.

Wasn’t all this a “quintessential example of Crown Resorts turning a blind eye to the prospects of money laundering occurring at its casino?” Sharp demanded to know.

It may have been ineptitude or a lack of attention. I don’t think it was deliberately turning a blind eye. I do think that’s a different adjectival conclusion,” replied Coonan, as reported by The Guardian.

Everyone Loses

Patricia Bergin, the former Supreme Court judge chairing the inquiry, said ineptitude wasn’t good enough.

“The community loses because you’ve got money laundering in your casino … and Crown loses because it’s seen as an inept company lacking in attention,” she said. “And the bystander could reasonably conclude that this conglomerate of ineptitude, lack of attention, and failing to intervene facilitated money laundering. Would you not agree with that?”

Coonan said yes.

Crown holds its annual general meeting on Thursday, and the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), an organization that advises the nation’s largest pension funds, has advised shareholders vote out three directors whose positions are up for renewal.

ACSI accuses the board of bad corporate governance and believes a shakeup is much needed.