Saturday Feb 04, 2023

Star ‘not equipped’ for money laundering risks: Outgoing chairman


Star Entertainment was not “not equipped” to handle the risks of money laundering in its casinos, outgoing chairman John O’Neill says.

Mr O’Neill gave his last day of evidence to the NSW gaming regulator probe into Star on Wednesday, ahead of his departure from the company.

The state inquiry is examining allegations Star enabled suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference at its venues, including its Sydney casino.

Mr O’Neill agreed with suggestions there was a culture at the casino that helped foster the illegal behaviour while urging the inquiry to make good of the company’s fallout.

“You can’t waste a moment like this, there has to be significant good to come out of it,” he said.

The inquiry has seen an exodus of the casino’s executives while hearing the numerous times money laundering fears were raised internally.

This included the casino allowing $900 million in banned transactions from Chinese debit cards to be used for gambling while being billed as hotel expenses. Star lied to NAB about the nature of the transactions.

Management also kept on ice a Hong Kong report that raised organised crime links with the manager of one of its junket operators, who had their own personal salon at Star Sydney.

“In our risk and compliance operation, we have not been anywhere near as good as we should have been,” Mr O’Neill said.

He pointed to Star trusting Macau-based money lenders to ensure users were of a reputable background, instead of the casino doing money laundering checks itself, as an example of where the casino had “come up short”.

“It doesn’t cast a favourable light on our culture of compliance at all,” Mr O’Neill said.

He told the inquiry the company had become too removed from the regulator and a post-inquiry Star should have suitability to hold a licence at the core of its operating philosophy.

Mr O’Neill’s testimony marks the last piece of witness evidence in the inquiry before closing statements on Tuesday.

The probe has prompted a management clean-out, with chief executive Matt Bekier, chief financial officer Harry Theodore, chief casino officer Greg Hawkins, and chief legal and risk officer Paula Martin all leaving in recent months.

Star announced on Monday that Ben Heap will assume the role of interim chairman, while Geoff Hogg will become acting chief executive.

It follows the devastating inquiry into Crown on similar money laundering allegations, which found the company unsuitable to hold a casino licence in NSW.


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