Inquiry Hears Star Entertainment Failed To Probe VIP Cash

April 1, 2022
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High-roller and alleged Chinese agent of influence Huang Xiangmo bought A$1.7bn ($1.3bn) in chips from The Star casino in Sydney over five years using different names and passport details, but casino officers did not probe the source of his money.

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High-roller and alleged Chinese agent of influence Huang Xiangmo bought A$1.7bn ($1.3bn) in chips from The Star casino in Sydney over five years using different names and passport details, but casino officers did not probe the source of his money.

A New South Wales (NSW) government regulatory review into The Star Entertainment Group also heard on Thursday (March 31) that company officials considered allowing Huang’s account to remain open after the Australian government cancelled his visa on national security grounds.

Keeping the account open would have allowed Huang’s associates to gamble in the casino, the review heard.

On its 11th day of public hearings, the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority review grilled Kevin Houlihan, Star’s general manager for financial crime and investigations, over Huang’s funds and his apparent low level of concern over Suncity junket activities at The Star’s private Salon 95 gaming room.

Counsel assisting the inquiry asked Houlihan why he did not act against Suncity despite an internal 2020 report from due diligence official Angus Buchanan that raised red flags about money laundering risk and despite examining an earlier Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) report that linked now-detained Suncity boss Alvin Chau to triad activity.

Houlihan struggled with his testimony at key moments, failing to coherently answer questions after several attempts, and eventually being unable to provide evidence of why he discounted the seriousness of the Buchanan and HKJC reports.

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp also asked several times if Houlihan was “telling the truth” in his testimony, and suggested that a final version of Buchanan’s report had been “significantly watered down” and distanced Chau from triad activity.

Houilihan disagreed, saying the final report contained mitigating measures that would allow business with Suncity and Chau to continue.

Houlihan concluded his evidence on Friday and was followed by Skye Arnott, Star Entertainment’s chief financial crime officer.

Chau was arrested in Macau in November and has been charged with illegal gambling and money laundering.

High-roller Huang Xiangmo, who also gambled very large sums at Crown Melbourne, was denied a visa after years of developing business, political and academic connections around Australia.

Huang donated millions of dollars to political parties and evidence before a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing in 2019 alleged he illegally gave A$100,000 in cash to the NSW Labor party.

The ongoing hearings into The Star Entertainment Group have already triggered the resignation of CEO and managing director Matt Bekier, who took responsibility for extensive breaches of anti-money laundering laws.

However, damage is mounting daily as new revelations indicate the breadth and depth of compliance failures at the company.

Recent admissions under oath include use of junket back channels in Macau to move cash to the casino after The Star’s own bank refused to do so.

Other allegations include document forgery by a Star employee and the masking of A$900m in gaming funds through hotel transactions.

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