Apos;Spirit apos; Of Law Mystery To Star Manager
A Star Entertainment Group manager has told an inquiry he was not aware of a casino obligation to act within the "spirit of the law", as the gambling giant faces down a shareholder class action over alleged regulatory failures.
Star's general manager, finance and commercial, Michael Whytcross was on Tuesday quizzed at a royal commission-style inquiry examining the fitness of The Star Sydney to hold a casino licence.
Mr Whytcross' testimony came as law firm Slater and Gordon on Tuesday filed a shareholder class action against Star, seeking compensation for "misleading or deceptive representations" about its compliance with regulatory obligations.
The law firm argues investors have a strong case given the NSW gaming regulator inquiry has been told the casino operator misled its banks and the regulator, ignored risks of money laundering, and failed to operate ethically.
The inquiry was told that Mr Whytcross looked for "workarounds" after Bank of China accounts in Macau were shut down in 2017, resulting in difficulties for overseas players to deposit large amounts of cash with the casino group.
The Bank of China accounts were closed after they were deemed high risk due to money laundering concerns, and Star Entertainment subsequently became "desperate" to find an alternate way to accept cash in Macau, the inquiry was told.
In 2018 Star executed an agreement with a Macau-based individual under which he would transfer HK$90 million (A$15 million) into his Star Sydney front money account, which could be drawn on for other patrons, then topped up.
"It wasn't for the purpose of him advancing money for him to play at Star casino?" counsel assisting Naomi Sharp asked the witness.
"Yes, that's correct," Mr Whytcross replied.
Mr Whytcross said he harboured no anti-money laundering concerns about the arrangement as "my understanding was that this would have been considered under the normal AML (anti-money laundering) processes".
Asked by Adam Bell SC, who is helming the probe, whether he understood The Star's code of conduct required him to act in accordance with the "spirit of the law" as well as the letter of the law, Mr Whytcross said: "no, I did not".
"That comes as a complete surprise to you does it"?
Mr Bell asked.
"My understanding as an employee was to adhere to the letter of the law," the witness replied.
Earlier, Mr Whytcross conceded having a limited understanding of the legal framework of Australia's anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing, despite providing advice to the international arm of the business.
The witness, formerly a KPMG, PWC and Crown Resorts employee, said he was not concerned about his understanding given "additional expertise within The Star".
He completed a half-hour online AML training sessions at Star Entertainment after joining from Crown where similar training was "quite sketchy", the inquiry was told.
Also on Tuesday, the inquiry was told The Star permitted a billionaire high roller to use a controversial Chinese debit card scheme despite it breaching the gaming venue's standard operating procedure.
It was told that Chinese-born Australian property developer Phillip Dong Fang Lee was allowed to use a China Union Pay debit card at the casino from 2014 in breach of casino rules permitting the card only to be used by "international rebate players".
The inquiry has been presented with damning evidence about practices at the casino, prompting the resignation of Star Entertainment chief executive Matt Bekier.
The probe was sparked by media reports accusing the casino operator of enabling suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference at its gaming facilities, including its Sydney casino.
The inquiry continues.
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