For decades, billionaire property developer Phillip Dong Fang Lee was a VIP at the Star Entertainment Group casino in Sydney’s glitzy Darling Harbour district, racking up millions of dollars playing baccarat shoulder to shoulder with other Chinese tycoons.
But his fortunes have changed after being called as a witness in a high-profile investigation into Star’s Sydney casino that comes as Australian and Chinese regulators crack down on money laundering and junkets, where middlemen extend credit to lure high rollers from the mainland.
The inquiry in Australia has revealed that about A$900mn ($674mn) of transactions have been processed in Star’s casinos using China UnionPay—China’s version of Visa and Mastercard — by gamblers. The use of the payment network for gambling contravenes both Australia’s anti-money laundering rules and Chinese capital outflow laws.
Lee, who speaks Mandarin with an accent from the south-east region of Nantong, told the inquiry that Star’s staff advised him one night to use his Chinese card as he nursed a heavy loss. “He said, ‘Don’t be anxious, you can use a China UnionPay card to pay off the debt’. Of course, I was very happy,” Lee said through a translator in the online hearings.