Casinos warned junket tours being infiltrated by criminals, ‘foreign interference’

The financial crimes watchdog says criminals and foreign interference agents have infiltrated "junket" gambling tour operators working in Australia and urged casinos to do more to address the high level money laundering risk they pose.

The anti-money laundering authority AUSTRAC said in an report released on Friday that it had will heap pressure on casino giants Crown Resorts and Star Entertainment to cut ties with their junket partners, which have been a focus of this year's explosive NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) inquiry into Crown.

AUSTRAC report identified instances of junkets being exploited and infiltrated by "serious and transnational criminal entities".

The ILGA inquiry has examined instances of suspected money laundering in a private gaming room operated at Crown by its largest junket partner, Suncity.

That included individuals taking part in what could be "regarded as foreign interference", said the assessment which rated the risk associated with junkets as "high".

AUSTRAC chief executive Nicole Rose said the assessment showed that junkets are "highly vulnerable to criminal misuse and Australian casinos must do more to mitigate [money laundering and terrorism financing] risks".

"I urge casinos to take prompt action by assessing their levels of risk posed by junket operations, strengthening their controls and reporting suspicious activity to AUSTRAC," Ms Rose said.

Junkets bring wealthy Chinese high rollers to overseas casinos and extend them credit to gamble with, circumventing China's tight capital controls.

The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes last year revealed that many of Crown's junket partners had links to organised crime syndicates, triggering the ILGA inquiry which is reassessing Crown's suitability to hold a licence for its new Sydney casino.

ILGA ordered Crown to delay opening the Barangaroo casino from this month until the inquiry delivers its recommendations, which are due by February 1.

Junket operations have in effect been suspended since Australia shut its international borders in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Crown has said it is reassessing whether it will work with junkets again even when they can resume bringing patrons into Australia.

More to come

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