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Crown ‘completely failed’ multiple red flags about potential money laundering at its casinos

Crown apathetic about money laundering, ‘completely failed’ to take concerns seriously: inquiry

Crown ‘completely failed’ to take seriously multiple red flags about potential money laundering at its casinos, an inquiry has heard.

Crown Resorts remained “apathetic” to potential money laundering at its casinos for many years, completely failing to take seriously concerns raised by banks that ultimately closed its accounts, an inquiry has heard.

The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry has heard management at Crown never reviewed the bank accounts of private subsidiaries Southbank Investments and Riverbank Investments despite suspicious deposits.

In concluding submissions on Monday, counsel assisting Scott Aspinall SC said some transaction descriptions were strangely referred to as school fees or loan purchases, and there was evidence of “smurfing” – a tactic used to break down a large amount of money into smaller transactions in order to evade financial reporting laws.

There were multiple payments by the same patron under $10,000 – the threshold for mandatory reporting to financial crimes regulator AUSTRAC.

Crown’s counsel Neil Young QC said the allegation the company was aware potential money laundering was occurring at either its Perth or Melbourne casinos would be refuted.

In 2014, ANZ was the first bank to raise red flags and ultimately shut down Southbank and Riverbank accounts, but Crown did not investigate why, Mr Aspinall said.

The culture within the gaming giant appeared “either ignorant of the risks or apathetic to the risks and the need to act in respect of them”, to turn a blind eye “or simply not caring either way”.

Problems identified by ANZ “were in no way addressed” because they “persist for years”, Mr Aspinall said.

In 2018, Commonwealth Bank subsidiary ASB Bank sent Crown urgent questions, including advising if transaction monitoring to detect unusual activity was in place, but all that followed months later were largely monosyllabic responses.

The queries were “yet another opportunity to have a wake-up call and have a look at what’s going on in these accounts”, Mr Aspinall said, but the responses lacked candour or were simply misleading.

“It was again another missed opportunity,” he said.

“It speaks of a culture … which isn’t sufficiently alive to the problems of money laundering and doesn’t do anything about it even when people are raising and waving a red flag right in front of them.”

After sending Crown a further query about $15 million received over two years from one patron, ASB then closed the account, saying the decision had been made in conjunction with anti-money laundering (AML) laws, Mr Aspinall said.

“This is now another bank saying to Crown in an all but polite way ‘we don’t want your business because you’re too much of an AML risk, and we’ve asked you various questions and none of the answers have satisfied us’.”

The matter was not escalated to Crown’s risk management committee, and the company just looked for alternative banks, the inquiry heard.

After Commonwealth Bank then asked questions about the accounts, a Crown staffer wrote to a colleague “so the ASB queries have finally reached CBA. Happy for you to respond directly if you want”.

The pair had “effectively been waiting for these questions to come through and the attitude, the casual nature of this email, in my submission demonstrates a complete failure of the culture of this organisation to take seriously what is occurring”, Mr Aspinall said.

He said it was difficult to accept ignorance could explain Crown’s inaction after ANZ flagged concerns “and that leaves the option that it’s apathy or some sort of willingness just to take the risk that it is money laundering”.

Mr Aspinall told inquiry commissioner Patricia Bergin it was open for her to find money laundering did occur through the accounts “almost conclusively”.

The inquiry is seeking to determine if Crown should retain the gaming licence for its massive, $2 billion-plus Sydney Barangaroo development, which is slated to open next month.

It was sparked by explosive media reports last year, including leaked footage of huge amounts of cash moving through a room at Crown Melbourne dedicated to Suncity, Macau’s largest operator of high roller “junkets”.

It has been alleged the VIP players who went on the junkets had links to organised crime in Asia.

Mr Aspinall and other counsel assisting have told Ms Bergin – who is due to hand down her findings on February 1 – that Crown is not fit to hold the Barangaroo licence.

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By Rebecca Le May and Gerard Cockburn, NOVEMBER 9, 2020, published on NCA NewsWire

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