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Inquiry to probe Star crime links

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Allegations of suspected money laundering and links to organised crime at Sydney’s Star casino are “directly relevant” to whether the venue should keep its operating licence, an inquiry has been told.

The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority inquiry is examining whether The Star Sydney has been infiltrated by criminal activity such as money laundering, and if the facility is fit to keep its casino licence.

It is also looking at how well the casino is doing on minimising gambling harm to individuals, families and the wider community.

The inquiry comes after media reports accusing The Star’s owner, casino giant Star Entertainment, of enabling suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference at its gaming facilities.

In her opening address on Thursday, counsel assisting the inquiry Naomi Sharp SC said issues raised about the casino on television by 60 Minutes and in newspaper reports would be under the spotlight.

“The matters raised in the media allegations are directly relevant to your amended terms of reference,” she said.

“Most critically they go to the first paragraph of the amended terms of reference, which relates to the suitability of the casino operator and its close associate Star Entertainment group.”

Expert evidence on money laundering related issues to be aired at the inquiry will put the casino’s due diligence processes under the microscope, she said.

“I expect that during these public hearings attention will be given to such issues as ‘know your customer’ procedures, due diligence and extended due diligence on patrons, and also on transaction monitoring.”

Other key issues included ensuring the casino remained free from criminal influence, and whether illegal and undesirable activities and people were present.

The inquiry would also look at claims about the casino’s alleged links to “politically exposed” individuals, she said.

Another issue would be the casino’s “international rebate business” — known as junkets — that involved “huge” marketing efforts to attract VIP patrons, many from mainland China, to gamble at The Star.

Private gaming rooms, known as salons, would also be looked at, including one room known as ‘Salon 95’ that was run out of the Darling Hotel in Sydney, with Ms Sharp saying that operation would get “close attention”.

Witnesses due to appear at the inquiry on Thursday are Star’s assistant group treasurer Paulina Dudek, former group treasurer Sarah Scopel and head of diversified industries and technology Tanya Arthur.

Other witnesses include Chinese billionaire property developer Phillip Dong Fang Lee, who was reportedly a high roller at the casino.

A report by the inquiry’s chair, Adam Bell SC, will be delivered in June.

In addition to the gambling regulator probe, the Australian Transaction and Reports Analysis Centre is investigating how well Star is following the rules on preventing criminals using casinos to launder money, with that probe expanded this year.

Star Entertainment says it has an unwavering focus on preventing criminal activity at its casinos, which also include The Star Gold Coast and Treasury Brisbane.

In February, the ASX-listed company posted a first-half loss of $74 million as investors braced for findings of probes into its controls against criminal activity.

Its larger rival, Crown Resorts, has also faced misconduct inquiries, which found criminals were taking advantage of its casinos, prompting two royal commissions and the resignation of most of its board.

– AAP

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