Star legal counsel denies international rebate business was “out of control” 

The Star Sydney, Star Entertainment Group

Star Entertainment’s chief legal and risk manager, Paula Martin, has defended the company and her conduct after being told that the international rebate business was “out of control” and the door had been left “wide open” for organized crime.

On her third day of testimony in a trial into Star’s suitability to hold a license in New South Wales, Martin came under pressure from counsel assisting, Naomi Sharp SC.

“In continuing to use the China UnionPay process from 2013 to March 2020, The Star and you personally acted in complete disregard of the obvious money laundering and counter-terrorism financing risks associated with that payment channel,” Sharp was cited by local media as saying.

Martin said she did not agree with the statement, but she did concede she could have done more and she agreed Star gave a misleading response to National Australia Bank in November 2019 about some $900 million in China UnionPay transactions. The operator had not provided “clear comments” that the cards were being used for gambling, she said.

Sharp also showed Martin an internal casino note from 2019 that expressed concern about the international rebate business and in particular the conduct of Marcus Lim, a senior Star manager at the time.

The inquiry heard that Lim was getting paid $50,000 for services, that junket clients had failed to return due to Lim’s conduct and the misuse of client comp to purchase items such as handbags for his girlfriend.

Despite the litany of complaints, Martin said she disagreed that the business was “out of control.” She also denied the company had been flouting Chinese rules on capital flight. 

The probe into Star’s business was triggered by the same investigative news teams from Australian media who uncovered the wrongdoings at rival Crown Resorts. Crown has been found unsuitable to hold its licenses in New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia and is also under investigation by financial crimes regulator, AUSTRAC.

The investigation so far has centered mostly on the use of China UnionPay cards and the company’s relationship with junket operator, Suncity.

The inquiry has heard how Suncity was effectively running a cage in its VIP room at the casino, contrary to regulations, with CCTV footage showing people bringing in bags of cash.

After concerns were raised about Suncity in 2019, the company publicly declared it was no longer doing business with the gaming promoter when in fact it was moved to an unbranded room within the casino where it continued to operate until 2020.

The probe has already claimed the scalp of CEO Matt Bekier, who resigned to take responsibility for the lapses in corporate governance.