“He was employed by the junket agent as a bodyguard, mainly as a show for the junket agent’s associates,” the ACLEI inquiry found. “[He] should have been aware that this employment could have created a perceived conflict of interest.”
The former border force officer also revealed to ACLEI investigators that he had helped broker the potential purchase of a Vanuatu casino by Mr Zhou.
Mr Zhou’s extensive dealings with Crown were exposed in 2019 in an investigation by The Age, TheSydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes, into Crown’s dealings with organised criminals as part of its high-roller program. The reporting also revealed the ABF officer’s dealings with Mr Zhou, and prompted both the ACLEI inquiry and an ongoing public inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence in NSW by judge Patricia Bergin.
The ACLEI inquiry report makes clear that the organisation only has the power to act on findings of corruption, rather than issues of maladministration that may have endangered the nation’s border security.
“Administrative deficiencies and corruption are not synonymous,” ACLEI explains in its report, even though “poor or lax governance can create a corruption vulnerability”.
The report confirms that Crown had an arrangement with border force to facilitate its visa applications, and that some “Crown-supported visa applications were given favourable visa outcomes due to Crown’s support, despite the visa applicants previously having had been refused visas”.
Of 79 Crown-supported visa applications that were refused by immigration officials or withdrawn by Crown due to concerns they would be refused, 21 were later issued visas, the report found. ACLEI’s investigators also uncovered notes attached to three visa cases that showed how Crown had sought to vouch for the integrity of suspect visa applicants.
“These visa processing notes indicate that in these three cases significant weight was given to Crown’s support despite the visa applicants having been previously refused,” the report states.
Another case highlighted by ACLEI involves a Crown high roller who had been given a two-year jail sentence for insider trading but who was still granted a visa.
“Our review of the processing of this visa application has identified administrative shortcomings. The record of the decision does not provide sufficient information to demonstrate how the character test was applied in this case,” ACLEI investigators concluded.
While it did not find evidence of corruption, ACLEI said it had “identified a number of administrative, record-keeping and communication concerns, which, while they did not necessarily lead to corrupt conduct, heighten the risk of the potential for such conduct.”
One example cited was the failure of “Home Affairs and the ABF … to provide all requested information and records,” leading to a warning by ACLEI that “inadequate record keeping may enable corrupt conduct”.
Investigators were also critical of the inadequate record keeping of officials responsible for screening high rollers when they flew into Australia on Crown’s private jets.
“While … documents show that there were existing national procedures and policies in place to manage the arrival of chartered flights, it is concerning that the ABF staff in Melbourne … did not know of their existence,” the report states. “The documentation that we were provided suggests … baggage checks were conducted rarely.”
“While public administration is not our jurisdiction, lack of adequate record keeping may create a corruption risk. If record keeping is known to be inadequate in an organisation, there is a risk that staff may feel that corruption or criminality will remain undetected.”
ACLEI’s Integrity Commissioner Michael Griffin announced in October 2019 that it would hold its first ever public hearings into the allegations surrounding Crown but his replacement, recently appointed ACLEI commissioner Jalaa Hinchcliffe, announced in April that these public hearings would be abandoned because of the “significant progress” her investigators had made behind closed doors.
The ACLEI inquiry ultimately conducted only two private hearings, in which witnesses were interviewed under oath, and one other interview. Investigators also reviewed thousands of Home Affairs documents and spoke to more than 360 limousine drivers who picked up Crown high rollers at airports.
ACLEI’s mostly secret inquiry is in stark contrast to the ongoing public inquiry into Crown by NSW judge Patricia Bergin. Ms Bergin’s inquiry has made repeatedly made headlines as it publicly questions Crown executives about the casino firm’s dealings with crime figures and failures to prevent infiltration by organised crime.
Nick McKenzie is an investigative reporter for The Age. He’s won nine Walkley awards and covers politics, business, foreign affairs and defence, human rights issues, the criminal justice system and social affairs.