Following media allegations of corruption and special visa deals for Asian high-rollers, Crown Casinos and Commonwealth agencies will face an integrity investigation. The probe was ordered by Attorney-General Christian Porter and comes amid claims in media publications that Australian consulate employees fast-tracked visa applications for Chinese gamblers.
On Tuesday, Attorney-General Christian Porter told the federal government that he had referred the investigation to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. The national integrity watchdog will be probing the relationship between Crown Casino and government agencies, accused of helping the casino to secure visas to big-spending gamblers mainly from China. The string of allegations was raised in several publications by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
According to the stories published by these papers, government agencies and Australian consulate officials, in particular, worked in collaboration with the casino in luring Asian gamblers. The controversy does not stop here, however, as there are even more outrageous allegations for money laundering. According to the media reports, Crown laundered huge sums of money through its casino in Melbourne. The company, of course, denies the money laundering claims.
Earlier on Tuesday, representatives of the Federal Government confirmed that there used to be an agreement between officials and the casino for fast-tracking applications for short-stay visas filed by high-rollers flying from China. The Department of Home Affairs admitted that it had “stakeholder arrangements” with multiple companies for the quick processing of short-stay visas. There was no special treatment for Chinese gamblers, however, it pointed out.
The deal with Crown Casinos dates back to 2003 when the arrangement was put in place, but it was cancelled in 2016, the Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said. According to the statement before Nine News, there is no “reduced vetting” and no “discretion to waive legislative checks”. Crown Casinos also commented on the allegations.
In an official statement issued on Monday, the company said it had introduced a “comprehensive anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing program”, which was supervised by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), the national financial intelligence agency. Crown Casinos also insisted they had taken multiple measures to prevent using its services for money laundering and other criminal activities. According to the gambling operator, it provides AUSTRAC with information and reports all transactions over AU$10,000.
Calls for Parliamentary Inquiry
Attorney-General Christian Porter said that there were “sufficient concerns” in media reports to require further investigation into the matter, although he pointed out that this did not mean he had any evidence that supported the allegations. According to him, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity is the most appropriate institution to conduct the probe since is it has, he says, “significant” investigative powers.
— Australian House of Representatives (@AboutTheHouse) July 30, 2019
Not everyone is confident that this is the case, however. Earlier, independent MP Andrew Wilkie moved a motion, demanding a parliamentary inquiry into the controversy. He was supported by crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie and the Greens. Wilkie told the Parliament that the media reports were really “just the tip of the iceberg” and that Crown Casinos was just like the Vatican – an independent organization where the laws did not apply.
Wilkie also insisted that the parliamentary inquiry had to investigate the Melbourne casino and the claims for money laundering, organized crime, drug trafficking, tampering with poker machines, and even domestic violence. His motion was rejected, however.