Australian authorities have launched an inquiry into Crown Resorts and the recent sale of shares to Hong Kong gambling tycoon Lawrence Ho.
Melco Resorts, where Ho is the CEO and majority shareholder, agreed to buy out nearly 20 per cent of James Packer’s stake in a AU $1.75 billion deal struck in May this year.
At that time Ho was still a director of Lanceford Company Limited, one of 59 firms that were blacklisted in 2014 as part of Crown’s licence agreement for a new high-roller casino in Sydney.
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Those previously confidential terms were put in place to prevent associates of Stanley Ho, Lawrence’s father, having any involvement in the Barangaroo casino project.
Several of the Ho family’s Macau casinos are suspected of serving as money-laundering hubs for organised crime syndicates.
Soon after the list of banned companies was tabled in New South Wales parliament on Thursday, the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority announced an official inquiry into the Crown-Melco deal.
Along with documents and other evidence pertaining to the share sale, the investigation will also consider recent allegations concerning Crown’s operations in Australia.
Last month, various media outlets reported that Crown Casino in Melbourne was embroiled in a multi-faceted criminal enterprise that included money laundering, sex trafficking and illegal immigration.
Those claims stem from casino management’s involvement with Huang Xiangmo, a known fraudster and high-stakes punter who reportedly spent as much as $800 million a year on the VIP tables at Crown Melbourne.
“Given the recent revelations relating to Crown’s operations in Australia and overseas including the associations with junket operators linked with organised crime and, in particular, money laundering, more scrutiny is needed on the operations of Crown,” said MP Justin Fields, one of those who called for the list of banned companies to be submitted to parliament.
Crown initially opposed the publication of the list on the basis that competitors would “misuse the information in order to gain an unfair commercial advantage”, but the firm has since agreed to cooperate with the inquiry.
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