Calls for Australia to Establish Independent Casino Commission

The Bergin report into Crown Resorts has led to calls for an independent casino commission.

The Australian Financial Review said the failure of the Commonwealth’s financial crime regulator to stop money laundering at the country’s biggest casinos has led to the calls.

A former NSW Supreme Court judge and chairman of the watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity, said the state government should back the Independent Casino Commission recommended by the Bergin report, which found money laundering regulation had failed and was far too opaque.

“Money laundering can’t be controlled merely by confidential exchanges between the casino and Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre,” Mr Whealy said.

“You’ve got to have far more robust oversight by an independent casino regulator.”

Mr Whealy said the extent of wrongdoing by Crown “has been a major scandal”.

“It has appalled the community and shamed the business community. The government must stop protecting the casino. It should act on the major recommendations as urgently as the situation permits.”

The 750-page Bergin report found the $6.9 billion gambling giant had for more than five years facilitated money laundering through its bank accounts in Melbourne, disregarded the welfare of its China-based staff and partnered with junket operators linked to organised crime.

“It is apparent that during the whole of the period while this money laundering activity was occurring, Crown was from time to time notifying AUSTRAC of some suspicious transactions,” former NSW Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin concluded in her 18-month inquiry, which recommended the new casino regulator have powers of a royal commission that would likely cut across AUSTRAC’s financial crime remit.

Communication between Commonwealth and states in question

As the NSW report came to light, the Victorian gambling regulator was “kept in the dark” by AUSTRAC, which did not notify it of “suspicious money laundering activity” and “prohibited the casino operator from telling anyone.”

An AUSTRAC spokesman rejected this, saying the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulator is able to have direct access to AUSTRAC’s information holdings.

“As Australia’s federal AML/CTF (anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing) regulator, AUSTRAC works closely with other regulators and Commonwealth and state law enforcement partners to actively address the significant risks of money laundering through casinos,” the spokesman said.

But Commissioner Bergin rejects this in her report: “Any suggestion that the AUSTRAC database might be accessed from time to time pursuant to some Memorandum of Understanding is not to the point. The casino regulator should be aware immediately of the casino operators.”

The AUSTRAC spokesman said: “AUSTRAC commenced an enforcement investigation into Crown Melbourne in August 2020 as a result of an AUSTRAC compliance assessment that began in September 2019. It is not appropriate to discuss details as the matter is ongoing.”

As early as July 2017, AUSTRAC knew dirty money from junket operators was flowing through Crown casinos but tried to keep secret the full details of what it knew.

In December, AUSTRAC chief executive Nicole Rose was forced to admit during Senate cross-examination that the regulator knew Australian casino operators were exploiting legal technicalities in anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws as far back as July 2017.

This included failing to identify or verify sources of funds and the ultimate beneficiaries of winnings associated with junket operators.

“It is extraordinary that it took a state-based inquiry to reveal that there has been massive, systemic money laundering taking place in casinos,” Labor MP Daniel Mulino said.

Mr Whealy said: “The government and the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority have really got to look carefully to make sure that if this mortally wounded casino is to be resuscitated, it’s not riddled with the kinds of viruses that led to its near demise.”

William Brown

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