Crown of Thorns, Top Aussie Group Under Forensic Corruption Heat

Crown Resorts, the largest gaming and entertainment group in Australia, with a market capitalisation of almost AU$9 billion (£4.92bn/US$6.95bn/€5.7bn), is under investigation for alleged links to criminal networks, money laundering and tax evasion.

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), a government financial intelligence agency, and two royal commissions are probing Crown’s activities at their premier casino resorts in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.

Crown, which announced revenue of AU$2.2 billion for its last full fiscal year, ending June 30, 2020 (£1.2bn/US$1.7bn/€1.39bn), employs 20,000 people down under. It also has extensive interests in the UK, among them the legendary Aspinalls casino in London’s West End and investments in far Eastern gaming mecca, Macao.

It is not yet known how the swirl of controversy and investigation will impact Crown’s iGaming brands: Betfair Australasia, DGN Games and Chill Gaming, among them.

AUSTRAC–which tracks financial transactions to identify money laundering, organised crime, tax evasion, welfare fraud and terrorism financing–said the allegations against Crown relate to “serious non-compliance” with the nation’s 2006 Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act.

It is alleged that between 2012 and 2016 Crown illegally “processed” more than AU$160 million in gambling funds via credit or debit cards at its Melbourne resort (£87.62m/US$123.7m/€101.5m).

And it is further claimed that the Crown, Melbourne, has avoided paying up to AU$200 million in tax by masking some of its GGR as comps (£109.48m/US$154.60m/€126.85m).

Uneasy rests the crown for the king of Aussie gambling

Crown’s principal shareholder–and a former director–is controversial Australian billionaire media baron James Packer, well known for his close ties to Israel’s politically- and corruption-embattled Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

Earlier this year, in an independent inquiry, Crown was found “unsuitable” to hold a casino licence because of its “continued commercial relationships with junket operators who had links to Triads and other organised crime groups.”

Meanwhile, AUSTRAC is also investigating money-laundering claims against Star Entertainment, Australia’s other leading casino operator, and SkyCity, a New Zealand-based company that runs a casino resort in Adelaide.

All three casino and iGaming groups have asserted that they will “fully co-operate” with the ongoing probes.

“[We] take our anti-money laundering obligations very seriously and will fully co-operate with AUSTRAC in relation to its requests for information and documents and the investigation,” Star said in a statement that was echoed by SkyCity.

AUSTRAC has further widened its money-laundering investigation to examine the activities of the National Australia Bank (NAB).

“NAB takes its financial crime obligations seriously,” said the bank’s Chief Executive Ross McEwan in response to the inquiry.

“We have invested approximately AU$800 million as part of a multi-year program to improve our financial crime and fraud controls and have more than 1,200 people dedicated to managing financial crime risks.

“We are very aware that we need to further improve our performance in relation to these matters. We have been working to improve and clearly have more to do,” said McEwan.

But as AUSTRAC CEO Nicole Rose pointed out: “Due to the products and services they offer, the Australian casino sector is at risk of criminal misuse.”

For Crown Resorts–in what can only be described as a difficult, if not damning, moment–uneasy rests their crown as the king of Aussie gambling.

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