Star apos;deficient apos; On Money Laundering Fears

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Star Entertainment Group provided a "thoroughly deficient" response to internal concerns that a controversial Chinese debit card scheme used at The Star Sydney was linked to potential high roller money laundering, an inquiry has heard.

The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority inquiry is investigating whether The Star Sydney has been infiltrated by criminal activity, and if its casino licence should be stripped following highly critical media reports.

The inquiry has so far heard damning testimony about practices at The Star, prompting the resignation on Monday of the company's CEO Matt Bekier.

At the inquiry, Star NSW regulatory manager David Aloi testified for a second day, saying he was worried in 2015 that the casino's China Union Pay debit card scheme was potentially being misused by high roller Phillip Dong Fang Lee.

Mr Lee withdrew around $30 million at the casino over several months in 2015 via CUP swipes, but amounts he played were not commensurate, the inquiry was told.

There were also concerns raised about the gambler taking home gaming chips and plaques, using "proxies" to do CUP swipes, and "abusing" the casino cheques system in a way that could alarm regulators, the inquiry was told.

"You personally held concerns that he was engaging with these processes for the purposes of money laundering?" Counsel assisting Penelope Abdiel asked the witness.

"Yes," Mr Aloi said.

Despite the concerns, the Chinese-born Australian property developer only received a short term CUP ban, and according to an internal email, was then allowed "to continue to withdraw on the CUP facility to the tune of $11 million per day".

Ms Abdiel suggested that the "thoroughly deficient" response on Mr Lee, known internally as "a $20 million player", occurred because The Star put business ahead of its regulatory obligations.

"Mr Lee was not curbed because it was best for business that he be allowed to continue doing what he wanted," Ms Abdiel put to the witness.

"That's right," Mr Aloi replied.

At another point Ms Abdiel submitted: "The Star prioritised the making of money from Mr Lee over compliance with its own rules".

"It seems that way," Mr Aloi replied.

Earlier, Mr Aloi admitted knowing the use of CUP debit cards to purchase gambling chips at the casino was in breach of "scheme rules" prohibiting that use.

The inquiry was told that after internal casino rules were altered, it was Mr Aloi's job in 2013 to find a "suitable merchant code category" for EFTPOS terminals at the casino that were not prohibited by CUP, so its debit cards could be used.

Instead of merchant code 7995, which referred to the purchase of gaming chips, code 7011 was used as it referred to "hotels, motels and resorts", in what was described as "somewhat of an artifice".

Around $900 million was transacted on the so-called CUP cards until terminals inside Star Entertainment casinos were disabled in 2020.

Also on Monday, Mr Aloi admitted to concerns about junket operator Suncity operating as a "third party" inside the casino via a "Suncity cage" at private gaming room Salon 95, due to the Macau-based company lacking regulator approval.

Despite all cash transactions needing to go through The Star's cage - a dedicated area used by a casino to process cash transactions - he learnt of a $60,000 cash play in the VIP room, but said he could not recall taking any steps afterwards.

The inquiry was sparked by reports accusing the venue's owner, Star Entertainment Group, of enabling suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference at its gaming facilities, including its Sydney casino.

The inquiry continues.




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