Crown investment companies were used to launder drug funds, authorities believe
06 Aug 2019

Drug traffickers have used two private companies which were set up by Crown Resorts with Crown executives as directors to bank suspected proceeds of crime, federal investigations have alleged.

Investigators traced money from a number of suspected or convicted drug traffickers and money launderers flowing into the bank accounts of the two companies, Southbank Investments Pty Ltd and Riverbank Investments Pty Ltd, between 2012 and 2016, according to former officials.

In 2013, global bank HSBC shut down bank accounts linked to Riverbank and Southbank at a time it was shedding high-risk bank accounts around the globe because it had been caught by US authorities washing drug money for Mexican cartels. The Crown companies opened Commonwealth Bank accounts instead.

In a separate incident in early 2017, a Crown bank account was used to send hundreds of thousands of dollars to a drug trafficker, according to multiple sources aware of the transaction. The sources said Crown had failed to alert Australia’s money laundering agency, Austrac, about the high-risk money transfer.

The revelations have raised a question in the minds of ex-investigators as to why Austrac has failed to dedicate resources to investigate potential breaches of money laundering laws by Crown, as it did with the Commonwealth Bank.

Austrac said in a statement that with international and domestic law enforcement and regulatory partners, it was “actively addressing the significant risk of money laundering through casinos”.

Casinos must report “suspicious matters,” international funds transfers of any amount, and physical currency transactions of $10,000 or more, and there were serious penalties for non-compliance, the statement said.

Austrac “regularly conducts rigorous compliance assessments” of casinos.

Operation Zanella

The money allegedly deposited by criminal targets of the federal police into Riverbank Investments and Southbank Investments was ostensibly for the settlement of gambling debts involving Crown high rollers or their high-roller agents, known as “junkets”.

But it appears the transactions may have also facilitated money laundering, according to the findings of a longstanding federal police inquiry, Operation Zanella.

Former investigators who worked with the AFP and Austrac have briefed The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald about the exploitation of Crown by money launderers, and about the work of Zanella.

In June 2015, a Zanella-linked inquiry codenamed Haricot traced multiple deposits from a Chinese cocaine trafficker and money launderer into Riverbank and Southbank accounts. That same month Haricot found that another drug trafficker had deposited $200,000 via a known money-laundering agent into a Southbank account.

By Nick McKenzie, Nick Toscano and Grace Tobin, The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 August 2019

Read more at The Sydney Morning Herald

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