Gaming | Crown Resorts probed after money laundering, visa claims

Crown Resorts Ltd. and Australian officials will be investigated after allegations of money laundering at the firm’s casinos and the fast-tracking of visas for wealthy overseas gamblers.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, along with the 60 Minutes television program, said at the weekend that a lawmaker and two government ministers had lobbied border-enforcement authorities to speed big-spending Crown gamblers through immigration.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said Tuesday he had referred allegations to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which will determine whether a further probe is needed. “There are sufficient concerns raised to at least warrant further investigations,” Porter told parliament.

Crown shares fell after Porter’s referral raised the possibility of an extended investigation hanging over the company. It’s another blow to Crown and its biggest shareholder, Australian billionaire James Packer, two years after a Chinese court convicted 19 current and former employees of illegally promoting gambling.

The gaming company said Tuesday it will assist with any investigation, but that it “absolutely rejects” allegations of illegality made in parliament and recent media reports.

“We believe these allegations are ill-informed and an attempt to smear the company,” Crown said in a statement.

The company has lost about AUD433 million ($300 million) in market value this week.

The wide-ranging reports alleged Crown used junket operators linked to drug traffickers as it sought to attract wealthy Chinese gamblers to Australia. Together with Australian officials, Crown helped hundreds of high-rollers gain entry to Australia each year, and at least one Asian crime syndicate was laundering money through the firm’s casinos, according to the reports.

Crown said it has a “robust process” for vetting junket operators and undertakes regular reviews. It also denied “any allegation that it knowingly exposed its staff to the risk of detention or conviction in China,” according to the statement.

The publication of the claims triggered separate calls by independent lawmakers on Monday for an investigation by a parliamentary committee. The ACLEI, as the agency is known, has the power to apply for search warrants and seize evidence, making it a better-resourced body to investigate, Porter said on Tuesday.

The commission’s main role is to investigate corruption within law enforcement bodies and it also has oversight of several agencies including the department of home affairs, the border force and federal police. Angus Whitley & Jason Scott, Bloomberg

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