Macau plans stricter ATM curbs as top China official visits

Mr Zhang Dejiang, the head of China's Parliament, received a red-carpet welcome at Macau's airport yesterday. He said the special administrative region of China has made brilliant achievements but faces an important stage as it makes a transition in
Mr Zhang Dejiang, the head of China's Parliament, received a red-carpet welcome at Macau's airport yesterday. He said the special administrative region of China has made brilliant achievements but faces an important stage as it makes a transition in its development.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • Macau plans to add security features to automated teller machines (ATMs) to monitor withdrawals, the authorities in the world's largest gambling hub said as the Chinese territory seeks to tighten restrictions on cash flows out of the mainland.

Macau is a special administrative region of China and the announcement of the plan coincides with a visit by Mr Zhang Dejiang, the head of China's Parliament and its third-most powerful leader.

The new measures for China's UnionPay bank card means users will have to scan their identity card at ATMs, which will use facial recognition technology to verify the user.

Over the past nine months, Macau's gambling revenues have rebounded as more mainlanders take advantage of an easing of Chinese President Xi Jinping's campaign against shows of wealth by public officials.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

Ahead of Mr Zhang's three-day visit to Macau, which started yesterday, police in the former Portuguese colony raided casinos, cafes and bars, placing a total of 790 people under investigation to "purify the environment in the community and do the best to maintain safety and stability".

The Judiciary Police said those being investigated were suspected of various offences, including illegal residence in Macau, human trafficking and illegal business operations.

In a bid to support the yuan, China's government has put in place capital controls that make it harder for individuals and companies to move money out of China.

A 2014 Reuters investigation found that many mainland Chinese use state-backed UnionPay cards to circumvent cash withdrawal limits of 20,000 yuan (S$4,100) a day, and either use that money to gamble or transfer it abroad. Customers open multiple bank accounts, and then withdraw cash from each, or use pawn shops in Macau to make fake purchases.

The planned ATM measures come as Macau is proposing changes to its anti-money-laundering laws which will strengthen current regulations.

The gaming authority is also conducting additional audits on the lucrative VIP gambling sector and more vetting of individual junket operators.

Yesterday, Mr Zhang emphasised the need for Macau to diversify its economy.

Speaking on the tarmac next to children waving flowers and a red banner welcoming him, Mr Zhang said Macau has made brilliant achievements but faces an important stage as it makes a transition in its development.

He did not specifically address the gaming industry during his five-minute speech, but China's government has previously stated policy goals for Macau which include becoming an international leisure centre and a platform between Portuguese-speaking countries and China.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'Macau plans stricter ATM curbs as top China official visits'. Print Edition | Subscribe