Queensland authorities endorsed Star on line casino stake for Hong Kong firm with Chinese language Triad hyperlinks


A key shareholder in Australia’s costliest on line casino improvement has a protracted historical past of affiliation with organised crime figures and folks blacklisted by playing regulators world wide, an ABC investigation has confirmed.

Chow Tai Fook, managed by the highly effective Cheng household in Hong Kong, was endorsed by the Queensland authorities in 2015 as a match and correct associate in its new $3.8 billion on line casino improvement at Queen’s Wharf.

Now the person appointed as probity adviser on the mission by the Queensland authorities has informed ABC Investigations he knew nothing of the corporate’s prison associations.

Former Queensland auditor-general Len Scanlan mentioned the revelations had been a big pink flag. 

“It’s information to me,” he mentioned.

“You realize what you realize and you do not know what you do not know. I had no information about these events.”

When requested if he would have backed approval of the bid had he recognized in regards to the firm’s prison associates, he mentioned: “In fact not, no.”

Not solely is Chow Tai Fook a 25 per cent shareholder within the on line casino, it additionally owns 50 per cent of the encompassing condo towers.

It’s going to additionally earn commissions from Star for each VIP gambler it brings to the on line casino when it opens subsequent 12 months.

Queensland authorities endorsed Star on line casino stake for Hong Kong firm with Chinese language Triad hyperlinks
Chow Tai Fook proprietor Henry Cheng (left) and father Cheng Yu Tung (proper) in the course of the firm’s buying and selling debut in 2011.(Reuters: Tyrone Siu)

ABC Investigations can reveal Chow Tai Fook and related corporations have been linked to Chinese language organised crime for many years.

Considered one of these corporations is nonetheless in enterprise with a long-time affiliate of a infamous Macau gangster, Wan Kuok Koi, often known as “Damaged Tooth”.

Cheng company automobiles remained a associate in a Vietnam on line casino with an organization based by Alvin Chau, the person broadly considered “Damaged Tooth” Koi’s protege, even after Mr Chau’s arrest on 286 prison costs in Macau final November.

The corporate’s chequered historical past features a function in a failed Australian on line casino bid with discredited playing tycoon Stanley Ho and pursuits in his corporations, which have been blacklisted in New South Wales.

The revelations come on the eve of the Gotterson Inquiry in Queensland, which from Tuesday will probe allegations Star turned a blind eye to cash laundering and prison infiltration within the sunshine state.

The Palaszczuk authorities allowed Chow Tai Fook to develop into a significant shareholder within the on line casino regardless of legal guidelines prohibiting enterprise associations with anybody of ill-repute or “undesirable” monetary sources.

“Now we have to have clear homeowners and clear operators if we will have clear casinos,” Chris Sidoti, a former chairman of the NSW’s unbiased on line casino regulator, mentioned.

“It is so simple as that.”

Chow Tai Fook didn’t reply to ABC questions.

Queensland Legal professional-Basic Shannon Fentiman, who’s in control of the Queensland casinos regulator, mentioned the connections raised by the ABC had been “extremely regarding”.

“Any of this new info that involves mild will completely be investigated.”

The start of a dynasty

The late Cheng Yu Tung constructed his household’s fortune on jewelry retailers and property developments earlier than he partnered with Macau on line casino king Stanley Ho within the early Eighties.

Via Ho’s gaming operations, the 2 magnates and pals loved a licence to print cash.

Ho died in 2020, however his pivotal function in constructing Macau’s on line casino empire means a whole bunch of billions in playing income has flowed by the previous Portuguese colony since 2002.

Three young women walk down a set of stairs surrounded by fluorescent lights in Macau
Macau is nicknamed the “Las Vegas of Asia” as a result of a majority of its economic system being based mostly on playing and tourism.(Reuters: Jason Lee)

Chinese language VIP high-rollers historically play on credit score however, as a result of playing is prohibited in mainland China, dangerous money owed can’t be chased up by the courts.

As an alternative, on line casino operators had been recognized to show to organised crime syndicates who repeatedly used violence and blackmail to recoup cash owed, in change for a minimize of the income.

When Cheng Yu Tung and Ho opened their Macau VIP rooms, they used the 14K and Solar Yee On Triads as debt collectors. This partnership opened the door to mortgage sharking, violence, prostitution and drug trafficking.

Among the many gangsters who bought wealthy was 14K chief “Damaged Tooth” Koi, who Macau prosecutors alleged held an $8 million stake in a VIP room owned by Cheng and Ho.

The Asian mobsters had been cashed up, audacious and murderous. A decade-long turf struggle culminated within the slaying of a Macau gaming official and the firebombing of a police chief’s automobile in 1998.

“Damaged Tooth” Koi was put in cuffs hours later by the very police chief whose automobile was set ablaze. The crime boss’s arrest meant he missed the premiere of On line casino, a gangster flick impressed by his life. 

Arrested by police director
“Damaged Tooth” Koi (center), is arrested by police chief Antonio Marques Baptista (proper), who additionally glided by the moniker “Rambo”.(Reuters)

Launched from jail in 2012, the Triad crime boss is at the moment underneath US authorities sanctions for alleged corruption, bribery, and the “misappropriation of state belongings”.

In the course of the 90s, Cheng Yu Tung appeared on the radar of authorities in Canada, the place he owned a stake in an oil and fuel firm with Ho.

Garry Clement, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigator stationed in Hong Kong, gathered intelligence about Cheng Yu Tung’s organised crime associations for the Canadian authorities.

Mr Clement recalled being launched to the jewelry tycoon at an occasion on the Canadian Excessive Fee in Hong Kong.

“He checked out me, turned and walked away, by no means shook my hand … he clearly knew who I used to be and what I used to be doing,” Mr Clement informed ABC Investigations.

a man in a suit sitting next to an old slot machine
Garry Clement mentioned it was tough for companies to fully disassociate from organised crime teams.(ABC Information: Felix Desroches)

Considered one of Mr Clement’s intelligence reviews, obtained from secret police recordsdata by Canadian journalist and writer Sam Cooper and verified by the ABC, said Ho’s firm Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM) had “huge untraceable monetary sources”.

It mentioned Chow Tai Fook’s stake in STDM put Cheng in “direct partnership” with Yip Hon, a property mogul who was named in US authorities reviews as an organised crime determine and Triad member.

Hong Kong police contacts additionally suspected Cheng Yu Tung’s firm New World, a Chow Tai Fook subsidiary, was getting used as a entrance for cash laundering. The transient cautioned there was no definitive proof, however famous the corporate headquarters was “often the venue for conferences involving well-known Triad figures”. 

The Canadians weren’t the one ones involved by organised crime hyperlinks.

A police officer holds a long gun.
A police officer escorts an unidentified triad member within the aftermath of “Damaged Tooth” Koi’s sentencing.(Reuters: Bobby Yip)

A 2009 report by the New Jersey Legal professional-Basic highlighted credible intelligence that Cheng Yu Tung had established a on line casino VIP room that was “infamous for Triad actions”.

Mr Clement informed ABC Investigations: “You possibly can’t have companies construct up on the backs of an organised crime group, or affiliated to an organised crime group, and impulsively 100 per cent distance your self from that.”

The New Jersey report additionally famous intelligence linking an affiliate of the patriarch’s son, Henry Cheng, to organised crime, and that American on line casino executives had “reservations about Henry Cheng as a associate”.

Cheng Yu Tung died in 2016. Henry Cheng is now the chair of Chow Tai Fook.

The ABC is just not suggesting Henry Cheng or Chow Tai Fook are engaged in prison exercise, however these issues increase vital public curiosity questions on Chow Tai Fook’s suitability as a Queensland on line casino proprietor.

Secret connection revealed

In 2014, the corporate solid a brand new relationship with Alvin Chau, who was each bit as flamboyant as his reputed mentor, “Damaged Tooth” Koi, however even wealthier and extra highly effective.

Mr Chau wore leather-based pants to enterprise conferences and his affair with a Malaysian starlet was fodder for the paparazzi.

A Chinese man in a black shirt, suit and tie stands at a movie premiere
Suncity founder Alvin Chau was named within the Bell Inquiry investigating prison exercise at Star’s Sydney casinos.(AP: Vincent Yu)

In a 2017 e-mail to Crown on line casino, Australia’s monetary crime company, AUSTRAC, famous Mr Chau additionally had a “substantial prison historical past”. The e-mail was tendered within the Bergin Inquiry in 2020.

He’s at the moment awaiting trial for 286 prison costs together with cash laundering, fraud and prison associations.

Because the founding father of junket enterprise Suncity, delivering Chinese language high-rollers to casinos worldwide, Mr Chau managed rivers of gold.

He and Chow Tai Fook had been eager about forging ties however talks of a Cheng firm taking up Suncity for almost $US1 billion had been placed on maintain in 2014.

They ultimately struck a deal to construct a on line casino in Hoiana, a seaside resort in Vietnam, valued at nearly $2 billion greater than Brisbane’s Queen’s Wharf.

Their partnership was stored discreet, nevertheless.

Construction on a beach.
The primary section of the Suncity resort mission being constructed close to the shoreline of Hoiana, Vietnam in 2018.(Reuters: Farah Grasp)

Confidential investor paperwork obtained by ABC Investigations present the Cheng flagship Chow Tai Fook used corporations within the notoriously secretive tax haven of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to carry its curiosity within the Vietnam on line casino.

Chow Tai Fook makes use of one other firm, registered to the identical BVI handle, to carry its Queensland on line casino funding.

Chow Tai Fook corporations retained their stake within the mission, alongside Suncity, even after Chau’s arrest final November.

Star, in the meantime, which has allowed Suncity junkets to function in its Australian casinos, has recognized for years about Suncity’s prison associations.

The Bell Inquiry into Star’s NSW on line casino revealed Star possessed a report from a former Australian Legal Intelligence Fee investigator, now working for the gaming operator, which laid out Mr Chau’s alleged Triad ties.

Star executives had been despatched the report, which additionally contained the data that Australian legislation enforcement suspected Suncity had laundered as much as $2 million a day, a lot of it drug cash.

A group of police walk with a man covered in a black mask.
Alvin Chau and nearly a dozen others had been arrested by Macau police over allegations of cash laundering and working an unlawful playing syndicate.(Provided)

In accordance with one Star govt in a 2018 e-mail to colleagues: “Alvin Chau (CEO of Suncity) has a direct affect with our companions CTF [Chow Tai Fook].”

Star took months to chop ties with Suncity, however its on line casino associate Chow Tai Fook by no means did.

A spokesperson for The Star informed ABC Investigations: “Out of respect for evaluations of The Star which might be persevering with in Queensland and NSW, we now have no remark presently.”

Cheng corporations finish their dropping streak in Australia

Many years earlier than the Palaszczuk authorities authorized Chow Tai Fook’s stake in Queen’s Wharf, Cheng household corporations had did not show they had been match to function in Australia’s on line casino business.

New World, an organization within the Chow Tai Fook group, joined Stanley Ho’s 1987 bid for the Darling Harbour On line casino licence in Sydney, which was eradicated from the method after probity checks.

The NSW opposition chief on the time informed media the state police board had been unable to clear the bid as “squeaky clear”.

a black and white photo of a man in a suit sitting behind a desk
Stanley Ho helped develop Macau’s fortune after WW2. His plans to develop his on line casino empire into Australia failed. (Provided)

In 1993, New World pulled out of a bid for a Sydney on line casino licence. Media reviews on the time claimed this was as a result of New World baulked on the probity vetting it was required to fulfill.

When Stanley Ho was banned from the NSW on line casino business in 2014 for his organised crime associations, the Cheng household had company and board pursuits in three of his blacklisted corporations.

The Cheng enterprise empire’s dropping streak in Australia lastly led to 2015, when its curiosity within the Queen’s Wharf mission was given the inexperienced mild by the Palaszczuk authorities.

Annastacia Palaszczuk in a blue jacket outdoors at a press conference.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk mentioned her authorities endorsed an unbiased panel advice about Chow Tai Fook.(AAP: Jono Searle)

On the time, Annastacia Palaszczuk insisted “there have been thorough probity checks each single step of the way in which”.

“There was an unbiased panel that made the advice to cupboard, which cupboard immediately has endorsed,” Ms Palaszczuk mentioned.

Former Queensland auditor-general Len Scanlan, appointed probity adviser on the mission by the previous Newman authorities, mentioned he was blindsided by revelations uncovered by the ABC.

He mentioned nobody informed him of those organised crime associations or the Cheng corporations’ use of tax havens.

“I’ve no recollection of these. It’s information to me,” he mentioned.

Requested if it will have raised issues, Mr Scanlan mentioned: “I believe my report speaks for itself on that rating.

“I believe it will have been [a red flag] for anybody, to be sincere.”

construction sign of a multiplex which reads The Star
The Star On line casino in Brisbane is scheduled to open its operations subsequent 12 months.(AAP: Jono Searle)

Legal professional-Basic Shannon Fentiman mentioned the ABC’s revelations warranted a contemporary investigation of Chow Tai Fook’s suitability as a on line casino proprietor by the workplace of Liquor and Gaming Regulator (OLGR).

“Look, it is extremely regarding to me because the minister and I believe any of this new info that involves mild will completely be investigated,” she mentioned.

She mentioned she anticipated the Gotterson inquiry to “completely undergo all of the operations of the casinos right here in Queensland, but additionally their shut associates, comparable to Chow Tai Fook”.

A woman sits in a board room.
Legal professional-Basic Shannon Fentiman mentioned the connections between Chow Tai Fook and the Triads had been “extremely regarding”.(ABC Information: Rachel Riga)

Ms Fentiman mentioned within the unique investigation from 2014, OLGR officers had travelled to Macau and “labored very carefully with the Hong Kong police, different worldwide regulators and likewise sought recommendation from the New South Wales and Queensland Police”.

Regardless of what the ABC has uncovered, Ms Fentiman mentioned she was suggested that the investigations into Chow Tai Fook had been “in depth” and located the corporate appropriate as a on line casino proprietor.

‘We simply had Yum Cha immediately’

ABC Investigations can even reveal {that a} subsidiary of the Brisbane on line casino co-owner is in enterprise with an affiliate of longstanding crime boss “Damaged Tooth” Koi. 

Ao Ieong Lok Hei, a director within the gangster’s charity on the peak of Macau’s Triad wars, now sits on a board with Conroy Cheng, Henry Cheng’s nephew. 

An organization part-owned by Mr Ao leong and a Chow Tai Fook firm are each shareholders within the enterprise, China Diamond and Jewel Trade (Macau) Firm Restricted.

Chairman holds souvenier
Henry Cheng is the chair of Chow Tai Fook, which co-owns Queen’s Wharf on line casino improvement.(Reuters: Tyrone Siu)

Conroy Cheng is vice-chairman and govt director of Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, which co-owns the brand new Brisbane on line casino.

Quickly after “Damaged Tooth” Koi was launched from jail in 2012, Mr Ao Ieong transferred some shares in one other firm to the gangster.

It was an organization that Mr Ao Ieong established at a luxurious waterfront Macau handle he mentioned was now owned by “Damaged Tooth” Koi’s son. 

The ABC has uncovered no proof of any wrongdoing on Mr Ao Ieong’s half. He informed the ABC he was a Macau businessman who had recognized “Damaged Tooth” Koi for greater than 30 years they usually did property offers collectively within the Nineteen Nineties.

“We’re nonetheless in contact with one another. We meet typically. We simply had Yum Cha immediately [August 2] throughout lunchtime,” he informed ABC Investigations.

“We’re pals. However we haven’t any enterprise connections or cooperation anymore.”

a busy hong kong street showing a chow tai fook sign
Chow Tai Fook has 1000’s of jewelry shops throughout 500 cities worldwide.(Wikimedia: Goarorelooam)

On Tuesday, Star’s licence might be on the road because the Gotterson inquiry examines its operations at The Star Gold Coast and Brisbane’s Treasury On line casino.

Former Queensland premier Campbell Newman, whose authorities initiated the Queen’s Wharf course of in 2013 earlier than being voted out, mentioned Chow Tai Fook’s connections to Triads had been by no means raised with him and he “would not have put up with these items … no method”.

“The Newman authorities ought to have been made conscious and the Palaszczuk authorities frankly should not have made the choice they’ve made as a result of this stuff had been there they usually’re discoverable,” he mentioned.

“I am fairly ready to say I imagine the method was tainted.”

In response to ABC Investigation’s findings, Mr Newman mentioned the “revelations I’m now seeing are appalling”.

He mentioned he was prepared to look at and launch cupboard paperwork for the Gotterson inquiry.

“You have revealed a complete lot of different potential issues when it comes to the offshore proponent,” Mr Newman mentioned. 

“It disturbs me that each in Queensland and interstate, regulators haven’t bought to the underside of this stuff.

“And it is time that we all know why.”

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