The boss of the former casino intermediary, Suncity, Alvin Chau has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for illegal gambling, running a triad and major fraud, among others charges.
The verdict was handed down yesterday morning by the Court of First Instance.
Chau was charged with 289 allegations, of which 229 concern operating illicit gambling in authorized venues. The court convicted him of 103 of the 229 allegations. The remaining 126 charges were dropped due to the expiry of the statutes of limitations. Chau was found guilty on 59 other charges and was cleared of the charge related to money laundering.
The prosecution involves 21 defendants. Besides Chau, 12 other defendants were found guilty.
Cheung Ning Ning, Sou Iek Meng, Sou Cho Hou, Sou Kuai Weng, Lam Chi Chi, Lei Siu Chong, Pang Kexun and Zhou Yongjun were cleared of the charges against them.
The other convicted defendants received sentences ranging from suspended sentences to 15 years in jail. The fifth defendant, Cheung Chi Kin, whom the presiding judge described as operating a side betting scheme with Chau, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The second defendant, Si Tou Chi Hou, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Speaking after the court hearing yesterday, Pedro Leal, the lawyer who represented defendant Celestino Ali, said that he did not agree with the conviction, mainly on account of the allegations relating to illegal gambling and scams.
“I have already made it clear in my concluding statements,” the lawyer emphasized.
Leal also argued that the defendants were charged with crimes that were more severe than necessary – and that these in turn incur penalties that are more severe. The prosecution made charges under the statutes against triad gangs provided in Law No 6/97, which carries a more severe penalty than the charge widely considered appropriate: criminal organization.
Although the presiding judge explained the reason why the court had preferred triad gang to criminal organization statutes, the lawyer did not accept the justification.
“We know that this law was created at a special time and to tackle a particular type of crimes that are related to organized crime,” Leal explained.
Concerning the defense’s next move, the lawyer said he would discuss the conviction and meet with his client for a discussion.
“But I think he’ll want to file an appeal,” he added and thought that Chau would file for an appeal as well.
Apart from the fact that he saw no grounds for the conviction related to illegal gambling and fraud, the lawyer also felt that punishments were disproportionate between defendants even on the same allegations.
“What was proven is that Ali [was employed by] Suncity and that eventually got him sentenced to 15 years [imprisonment], when there are other defendants who have been sentenced to 10 years and had profited from illegal betting,” he explained.
Speaking in the interests of his client, Leal protested that “it was never proven that Ali had any link or practice on this illegal gaming or has had any benefit from it.”
The lawyer also commented on the court’s jurisdiction over crimes that took place outside Macau. He handled the topic with caution and said that, because of the rapid unfolding of events, he needs time to study the verdict.
He added, however, that the court noted that the illegal gaming activities “were promoted” in Macau, possibly providing grounds for the local court’s jurisdiction.
On the matter of compensation to the government and casino operators, the lawyer emphasized that he does not consider the accusation of fraud to be legitimate. Given this ground, he does not see any grounds for compensation either.
According to several media outlets, including public broadcaster TDM, Presiding Judge Lou Ieng Ha, while reading the judgment, recapped her view that Suncity used the word “operation” to refer to side betting. Her understanding was that “operation” is a very common term, and the association with side betting is therefore very difficult to establish.
Her opinion is that Suncity employed the codename tactic to cover its tracks concerning side betting, since management was aware of the illegality of the practice.
Furthermore, the judge continued, several accounting clerks and accountants who worked for Suncity also reportedly worked at the company owned by Cheung. This implies that management approved of this arrangement allowing them to work for two companies at the same time.
Moreover, the fact that Chau’s secretary sent him voice messages about Cheung’s discussions related to side betting, besides departmental phones recording information about the “operation”, has led the presiding judge to believe that Chau and Cheung were complicit in the side betting scheme.
Chau had also been charged with aggravated money laundering, the only crime of which he was cleared. The presiding judge said that the evidence was sufficient to establish his guilt, because he and certain defendants had transferred the illegally earned interests using winding channels.
The reason why Chau was acquitted of the charge is that the cause of the allegations was based on phone betting, online betting and side betting, for which the maximum penalties are less than three years of imprisonment. The judge did not find the penalty severe enough to convict him of aggravated money laundering.
The court ordered concerned defendants to compensate the Macau government and five of the six casino operators, who are co-plaintiffs in the civil case. The defendants must pay HKD6.52 billion to the government, HKD349 million to MGM, HKD770 million to Wynn, HKD290 million to Venetian, HKD550 million to Galaxy and HKD178 million to SJM.
Chau’s wife was present at yesterday’s hearing but did not comment following the verdict. Anthony Lam & Renato Marques
Suncity has sought to cut ties with its former boss Alvin Chau following his arrest. The listed arm, Suncity Group Holdings Ltd. (which doesn’t run junket operations) was taken over by executive director Andrew Lo in July, and later renamed LET Group Holdings Ltd.
Since starting Suncity in 2007, Chau developed the group into Macau’s dominant junket operator and branched out into overseas casinos from the Philippines to Russia, as well as side lines in entertainment, real estate and travel. His early career has remained shrouded in mystery while his personal life became tabloid fodder.
He was a former associate of notorious Macau triad boss, “Broken Tooth” Wan Kuok-koi, according to an Australian state government inquiry into Crown Resorts in 2020, and as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.
Chau even found his way into China’s political scene, serving as a member of the Guangdong provincial committee of China’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference from 2013 to 2017.
Before his arrest, Chau had become increasingly vocal in asserting his patriotism for mainland China.
In an interview with state media in 2020, Chau discussed how his entertainment unit co-funded the 2018 action blockbuster Operation Red Sea, about the Chinese navy evacuating expatriots from a fictional North African country torn by civil war.