Visas for China high rollers: Aussie officials face probe

Reports allege Crown Resorts casinos linked to visa fast-tracking and money laundering

SYDNEY • Australia's government said yesterday it would investigate relations between consular officials and the country's main casino operator, Crown Resorts.

This came after media reports alleged that organised crime gangs from China were laundering money through the operator's casinos in Melbourne and Perth.

In recent days, reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age asserted that Crown, which is part-owned by tycoon James Packer, obtained assistance from Australian consular staff to facilitate the travel to Australia of people under investigation or being monitored by police and intelligence agencies.

The reports also said a cousin of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr Ming Chai, holds an Australian passport and was aboard a private jet that was searched by Australian agents in 2016 on suspicion that the aircraft was involved in money laundering.

Mr Ming, a former police official who has not responded to the reports, was a valued client of Crown, known as a VVIP, or Very, Very Important Person, according to confidential Crown documents cited by the newspapers.

Yesterday, the country's Attorney-General Christian Porter referred the allegations to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, a body that investigates corruption in federal law enforcement agencies, including border control officials. "It's my view that there are sufficient concerns to warrant further investigations," Mr Porter told Parliament.

A former head of the Australian Border Force, Mr Roman Quaedvlieg, told the papers in an article published on Sunday that he had been lobbied by two senior government officials to make it easier for wealthy Chinese gamblers to enter Australia on private jets.

Crown said yesterday that it would assist with any investigation, but rejected allegations of illegality.

"We believe these allegations are ill-informed and an attempt to smear the company," it said in a statement.

The Department of Home Affairs, which oversees the border force, said it offers fast-track visa processing for "a number of large international organisations".

The allegations are proving explosive in Australia, which is grappling with an influx of wealth from mainland China that has driven up property values, generated lucrative tax revenue and raised questions about the source of the financial windfalls.

The law enforcement integrity inquiry is likely to focus on whether federal officials did anything wrong in their relations with Crown.

The casino operator is primarily regulated by the state authorities, which have said they are monitoring the situation but have not taken any specific action.

From 2003 to 2016, Crown had an arrangement with the government to expedite the issue of short-term visas for gamblers. It is unclear why the arrangement ended.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2019, with the headline 'Visas for China high rollers: Aussie officials face probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe