‘Greater than previously thought’: Crown money laundering suspected as recently as February

The criminal infiltration of Crown Resorts is likely greater than previously thought, with evidence of suspected criminals washing dirty money in its bank accounts as recently as February.

Victoria’s royal commission into the James Packer-backed casino giant heard on Monday that suspected money laundering had been identified in 14 new bank accounts that were not examined in last year’s damning Bergin Inquiry.

The commission has uncovered more examples of money laundering in Crown’s bank accounts. Credit:Chris Hopkins

But commissioner Ray Finkelstein, QC, will have to decide on Crown’s suitability to hold its Melbourne casino licence without knowing the full extent of its money laundering problems, the inquiry was told, because the group did not commence a full review until February this year.

“Had Crown started that review any earlier than February this year, the results would be known to this commission,” counsel assisting Meg O’Sullivan said.

She added that Crown failed to launch a review earlier despite there being “red flags” about money laundering in its accounts dating back to 2014.

Last year’s Bergin inquiry in NSW found Crown was unfit to run its new Sydney casino, with a key reason being that it facilitated money laundering through two patron deposit bank accounts.

Money laundering in these accounts – held through shell companies called Southbank Investments and Riverbank Investments – where revealed in an investigation by this masthead in mid-2019.

Ms O’Sullivan said the review currently underway by Deloitte into Crown’s other accounts would reveal if the Southbank and Riverbank accounts were “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“Deloitte’s preliminary analysis suggests that of those 45 bank accounts, there are 14 Crown bank accounts with evidence of money laundering,” she said, with some instances happening in February this year. “It appears that Crown does not yet know the full extent of that problem, save that it’s likely greater than previously thought.”

The inquiry heard on Monday that Crown did initially approach Katherine Shamai, an anti-money laundering expert at Grant Thornton, to run a review of its bank accounts in August 2019.

However, that did not turn into a formal engagement until October 2020, when Ms Shamai was asked to review only the Southbank and Riverbank accounts. She found more than $5 million of suspected criminal transactions between 2013 and 2019 when the accounts were closed.

Commissioner Ray Finkelstein will have to finalise his report without knowing the full extent of money laundering at Crown. Credit:AAP

Ms Shamai told the inquiry Crown’s lawyers MinterEllison then asked her in January 2021 to begin a review of other accounts linked to Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos. This was two months after Crown told the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation such a review was already underway, Ms O’Sullivan said.

However, Ms Shamai said that in February Crown’s new lawyers Allens told her to cease the almost-completed investigation because it was engaging another party to complete the work.

Crown is undergoing what it calls a “reform” process to try and improve its money launder controls and governance to win back its Sydney casino licence.

But Ms O’Sullivan stold the commission that external experts had already found some of Crown’s new anti-money laundering controls to be deficient, which she said raised “serious concerns about Crown’s ability to implement consistent, effective and sustainable reforms to address its past money laundering failures”.

“It’s open to concluded that Crown’s first steps on its pathway are simply a knee-jerk reaction to the revelations of the Bergin inquiry,” she said. “Even the supposed new and improved Crown had continuing anti-money laundering problems.”

The inquiry continues.

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