Victoria’s royal commission into Crown Resorts has heard that money laundering was suspected at the casino as recently as February.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that criminal infiltration is suspected to be greater than previously thought, with suspected money laundering identified in 14 new bank accounts that were not examined in last year’s damning Bergin inquiry.

Commissioner Ray Finkelstein, QC, will have to decide on Crown’s suitability to hold its Melbourne casino licence without knowing the full extent of its money laundering problems, the inquiry was told, because the company delayed launching an investigation of its bank account until February.

“Had Crown started that review any earlier than February this year, the results would be known to this commission,” counsel assisting Meg O’Sullivan said.

Crown had delayed launching a full review of its accounts despite its banks warning of suspicious transactions in 2014; reports in August 2019 about money laundering in its accounts; and advice from an external expert to launch a full review in 2019 and again in late 2020.

The Bergin inquiry in NSW found Crown was unfit to run its new Sydney casino, with a key reason being that it facilitated money laundering through two patron deposit bank accounts held through shell companies called Southbank Investments and Riverbank Investments.

Ms O’Sullivan said the review currently underway by Deloitte into Crown’s other accounts would reveal if money laundering in those accounts were “just the tip of the iceberg”.

The inquiry heard on Monday that Crown did initially approach Katherine Shamai, an anti-money laundering expert at Grant Thornton, to run a review of its bank accounts in August 2019.

But she did not hear from Crown again until October 2020, when it asked her to review only the Southbank and Riverbank accounts.

She found more than $5 million of suspected criminal transactions between 2013 and 2019.

Crown engaged firms to look into alleged money laundering

Ms Shamai told the inquiry Crown’s lawyers MinterEllison then asked her in January 2021 to begin a review of other accounts linked to Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos.

This was two months after Crown told the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation such a review was already underway, Ms O’Sullivan said.

However, Ms Shamai said that in February Crown’s new lawyers Allens told her to cease the almost completed investigation because it was engaging another party to complete the work.

Crown instructed Ms Shamai to only conduct her search of its accounts to a limited number of “typologies” that could indicate illegal behaviour, meaning they could not be called a “full search”, she said.

Ms Shamai could offer no reason why Crown would limit her investigation if it was serious about rooting out examples of suspicious transactions.

Crown is undergoing what it calls a “reform” process to try and improve its money launder controls and governance to win back its Sydney casino licence.

But Ms O’Sullivan told the commission that external experts had already found some of Crown’s new anti-money laundering controls to be deficient, which she raised “serious concerns about Crown’s ability to implement consistent, effective and sustainable reforms to address its past money laundering failures”.

“It’s open to be concluded that Crown’s first steps on its pathway are simply a knee-jerk reaction to the revelations of the Bergin inquiry,” she said.

“Even the supposed new and improved Crown had continuing anti-money laundering problems.”

The inquiry, which must report back by August 1, continues this week.

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