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Australia Crown ignored AFP warning on junket partners

13:22  25 june  2021
13:22  25 june  2021 Source:   brisbanetimes.com.au

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Crown Resorts defended its relationship with "junkets" even after the Australian Federal Police told the casino it believed its high-roller gambling tour partners were laundering drug money for international crime syndicates.

Craig Walsh, the head of security and surveillance at Crown Melbourne, told Victoria's royal commission into the group on Friday that Crown was aware a law enforcement agency was investigating its most important junket partner, Suncity.

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"We were helping them put tracking devices and listening devices in rooms and cars," he said. "We knew Suncity were targets of a law enforcement investigation."

Mr Walsh did not say when this occurred and the hearing adjourned shortly after he made the comment.

However, the former Melbourne homicide and armed robbery squad detective revealed earlier in the day that he was warned at a Victoria Police gambling crime symposium, held around 2015 or 2016, that Suncity was backed by the powerful Hong Kong criminal triad 14K.

Mr Walsh said he relayed that information back to Crown Melbourne's current chief executive Xavier Walsh and Crown's recently departed Australian resorts chief Barry Felstead.

Mr Walsh said that shortly after the symposium, the Australian Federal Police's local commander Bruce Giles contacted him to discuss junkets that were bringing Chinese high-rollers to Crown's casinos.

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The AFP commander told him, "pretty directly: ‘we are coming after junkets… AFP and our partners overseas strongly believe it's drug money'," Mr Walsh said.

"So again I escalated that. And post that we met with a number of areas of AFP around junkets; how they operated, those sorts of things."

This masthead revealed in 2019 that many of Crown's most important junket partners had extensive links to Asian organised crime gangs, including Suncity, which at the time had a private gaming salon at Crown Melbourne.

The James Packer-backed group responded furiously to the reports, calling them a "deceitful campaign" and saying that it had a "robust process for vetting junket operators". Crown group did not reveal at the time or since about the AFP warning.

Victoria's royal commission is examining Crown's casino licence after an inquiry in NSW found it was unfit to run its new Sydney casino, with a failure to vet its junket partners for criminal links one of the key reasons.

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Earlier on Friday, Mr Walsh revealed that none of his 600 security and surveillance staff were based in the private salons where high rollers gambled because Crown "didn't want security in there".

The security boss also told the inquiry that he did not trust the Crown VIP hosts, who worked closely with high-rollers, following a series of concerning incidents. In one incident early in his 12-year career at Crown, a VIP host tipped off a high-roller patron that Crown was helping Victoria Police to monitor him because he was the suspect in a murder investigation.

"In terms of relationships [with police], it's pretty hard to come back from," Mr Walsh said. "That was unforgivable".

Mr Walsh said he became frustrated with Crown management for refusing to fire staff who he had investigated over integrity issues "over and over again".

The salons were also the last places in the casino to be fitted with facial recognition technology when it was rolled out at Crown between 2017 and 2019. Facial recognition - used to identify people banned from the casino - could have been installed 10 years earlier, Mr Walsh said, and he would have preferred a quicker rollout but Crown management did not want to spend money on it.

The inquiry continues on Monday.

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