The tallest and shiniest new building on Sydney’s skyline, the Crown casino in Barangaroo, won’t be able to open in December after the company made a last-minute admission that its bank accounts might have been used by criminals to launder money.
On Tuesday, amid an ongoing investigation by state authorities, lawyers for the casino backflipped on their previous argument that suspicious in transactions in Crown’s bank accounts weren’t signs of money laundering.
“Crown accepts that there were funds deposited into the Riverbank and Southbank accounts that Initialism has found to be indicative of ‘cuckoo smurfing’ – it is indicative of a form of money laundering,” Crown’s counsel Robert Craig, SC, said.
Now, the chairman of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) Philip Crawford said he didn’t feel “comfortable” about letting the casino open next month until its inquiry into Crown’s license winds up in February, 2021.
“It’s come at the 11th hour – literally. That gives us great concern because we’re talking about money laundering,” Crawford told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re talking about – potentially – drugs, we’re talking about child sexual exploitation, we’re talking about people trafficking and we’re talking about financing terrorism.”
The luxurious $2.2 billion skyscraper at Barangaroo includes not only a casino, but 14 bars and restaurants and a 350-room hotel, too.
“We did suggest originally with Crown we would be happy to talk to them about a limited opening, that is their hotel, their bars, their restaurants,” Crawford added.
“Initially they didn’t take us up [on the suggestion] and wanted to have a graduated opening including gaming. We’re not comfortable with that.”
Now, that’s exactly what Crown will have to do.
“Crown will focus on opening the non-gaming operations at Crown Sydney, in consultation with ILGA, in the absence of the commencement of gaming operations,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
The whole inquiry was triggered by a report into money laundering by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in last year.
It found that drug traffickers had appeared to launder money through private companies set up by Crown Resorts, which also had Crown executives as directors.
Now, when the most prominent new building in Sydney opens up next month, its main attraction – the casino – will be totally off-limits to punters until further notice.