Organized Crime ‘Hidden’ Among Crown Perth Casino High Roller Gambling, Police Commissioner Tells WA Inquiry

  • The Western Australia Commission has heard of links between Crown Perth and organized crime
  • Police commissioner Col Blanch said criminals use Hawala to clean illicit funds through junkets
  • A Crown manager described the casino’s auditing as “robust” but noted room for improvement
  • The inquiry has heard conflicting testimony over a potential breach of COVID-19 lockdown rules
Crown Perth casino
Investigations into Crown Resorts’s Perth casino (pictured above) are still ongoing, and a police commisioner has just tied the gambling venue to organized crime through its high roller activity. [Image:]

The Crown saga continues

In Western Australia, the Royal Commission is continuing its investigation into the Crown Perth casino. It is hoping to assess whether its operator, Crown Resorts, is suitable to hold a casino license in the Australian state. Unfortunately for the James Packer-owned gambling giant, the Commission has just listened to a damning testimony from one of the region’s most senior police officers.

a clear link between organized crime and the Perth casino’s high roller business

Speaking on Thursday, deputy police commissioner Col Blanch told the inquiry that there is a clear link between organized crime and the Perth casino’s high roller business. He said that by using the Hawala system, criminals can offset cash through casino junkets. This subsequently allows them to avoid detection from authorities, with the illicit funds remaining “hidden” among Crown Perth’s VIP business.

Following a recent extension, the investigation into Crown Perth will now continue until March 2022.

The company has already lost its Sydney casino license in a similar inquiry in New South Wales, which also saw investigators link Crown’s junket operators to organized crime.

Hawala makes laundering possible

Hawala is an informal method of transferring money without any physical funds actually moving. Existing outside of the traditional banking systems, the process is heavily based on trust. It provides anonymity in its transactions, with no official records kept. Authorities are unable to trace the source of the money as a result.

Many of the people often involved in Hawala are legitimate business people”

As reported by The Australian, Blanch explained to the inquiry how criminals utilize this system to launder illicit funds. He described a situation in which an overseas person might use Hawala to gain access to additional gambling money, but then end up playing with drug trafficking cash through arrangements made by a broker. According to Blanch, this could happen without the gambler even knowing about the illegal source. “Many of the people often involved in Hawala are legitimate business people,” he told the Commission.

The senior police officer described the Hawala system as an “overall money laundering risk,” and one not just limited to casino gambling. With this in mind, Blanch said he would prefer to improve dialogue between Crown Perth and the authorities to ensure that they can look into any high-risk multimillion-dollar gambling events.

Crown gives its defense

Prior to hearing the police officer’s testimony, Crown Resorts internal audit manager Rachel Murray defended the operator’s procedures. She described Crown Perth’s internal audit regime as “robust”, arguing that the operator did everything in its power to identify “the risks and controls” of junket operators.

According to Murray, the managing of junket operators mainly falls within the remit of Crown Melbourne. She asserted that she has no involvement in the internal audit of that department, and so has “no visibility” over the way in which the Melbourne casino operates.

Despite defending the system, Murray ultimately admitted that Crown could make improvements. She told the commission that she did not feel comfortable contacting board members, agreeing that this constituted a “structural failure.”

A potential lockdown breach

On Tuesday this week, Crown Perth’s director of casino operations for gaming machines Melissa Smith revealed that the casino had transgressed COVID-19 lockdown rules. She told the commission that the casino’s VIP room, the Pearl Room, remained open during the last lockdown period. Her husband and Pearl Room manager, Richard Smith, supported that testimony.

received approval from the casino watchdog and Western Australia Police

However, on Wednesday, the casino’s general manager of security and surveillance Brian Lee argued against this. He told the commission that Crown Perth had received approval from the casino watchdog and Western Australia Police to allow the Pearl Room to remain open.

Lee said he sought advice from a police inspector who told him that the venue could remain in business because of its limited capacity. “I believe that along with bars and restaurants, the Pearl Room facility could open,” he explained. Lee and other casino officials have asserted that the room only opened once restrictions had eased following full lockdown conditions.

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