High-roller put $11m on UnionPay card in one day at Star Sydney casino

The Star Sydney, Star Entertainment Group

A probe into Star Entertainment’s operations in Sydney has heard that a Chinese-born real estate developer used to spend millions at the casino and on one occasion put $11 million on his China UnionPay card in one day. 

Phillip Dong Fang Lee confirmed to the inquiry that he had used his card to buy chips, or pay back casino debt, to the tune of $11 million on April 6, 2015.

The inquiry went through a series of receipts with Lee, showing multiple transactions of almost $1 million. On at least one occasion, he swiped his card repeatedly debiting $900,000, with the transactions all close to each other. 

Lee said he was initially told there was no limit on the amount he could spend on the China UnionPay card and he was never warned about taking out too much, although a limit was later placed on the card.

The inquiry into Star’s operations was triggered by an investigative news report, which said money laundering was being carried out through the casino and that it was doing business with a junket with relations to organized crime. The allegations were similar to those leveled by the same investigative team against Crown Resorts, which sparked an inquiry in New South Wales and two Royal Commissions in Victoria and Western Australia.

Crown was deemed to be unsuitable to hold its license in all three states.

The probe into Star began open-door hearings on March 17th and since then local media has reported on major lapses in AML controls and corporate governance.

The inquiry has heard that some $900 million was spent on China UnionPay cards, which were passed off as hotel and general expenses. The high levels triggered concern from China’s central bank which suspected the cards were being used for gambling. 

The National Australia Bank admitted that it had asked Star about the payments, but had not specifically asked whether the money had been used in the casino. Later testimony suggested that the NAB was aware of the situation.

On Wednesday, the inquiry heard how Star continued to do business with Suncity even after its CEO had publicly said that they were no longer in business. Suncity’s VIP room was closed, but it moved to another unbranded room to carry out its operations.