Major watchdogs in Australia’s finance have dramatically reduced the sum of money it was sent from the Vatican to Australia. This was according to the Vatican after an earlier report cited a huge figure that raised suspicions of money laundering.
As per the joint Vatican-Australian review showed only $9.5 million was transited between 2014 and 2020, a fraction of $2.3 billion originally reported by the watchdog which sparked surprise.
The Vatican contested the huge figures in December and asked the Australian financial intelligence unit, known as AUSTRAC, to review its calculations.
With that, some media raised speculations that the Vatican could have been used to launder money.
This error by AUSTRAC was first reported by The Australian newspaper, which explained it was due to a computer coding mistake.
Meanwhile, the Vatican statement called the mistake “a huge discrepancy”. It said the $9.5 million sent to Australia was mostly to meet “contractual obligations” as well as “ordinary management”. This seemed to be a reference to its embassy in Australia.
As per the Vatican, the original report of the staggering amount of money and more than 47,000 individual fund transfers had appeared to be like “science fiction”, provided that fact that the Holy See’s annual budget is about 330 million euros. Hence, they demanded a review.
AUSTRAC had told the Australian newspaper the new calculations showed there had been only 362 transfers in that period.
Amid that, Vatican’s treasurer from 2014 to 2017, Cardinal George Pell, told media “I was relieved to hear that billions were not laundered through the Vatican while I was head of the Secretariat for the Economy”.
Last month, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane said that the Australian Church was not made aware of such transfers and that the bishops yearn for an explanation from the Vatican and AUSTRAC regarding the matter.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has alleged that Pravin Raut, a director of Guruashish Constructions Pvt Ltd – a subsidiary of Housing Development and Infrastructure Limited (HDIL) – siphoned Rs 95 crore and allegedly transferred Rs 1.6 crore to his wife, who then gave Rs 55 lakh to Varsha Raut, wife of Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, in 2010-2011, as an interest free loan.
The agency has also not found any documents showing a formal loan agreement between Varsha and Madhuri, wife of Pravin Raut, raising questions on the nature of the transactions, sources in the ED said. On Friday, the agency provisionally attached assets of Rs 72 crore belonging to Pravin under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative (PMC) Bank case. The ED has alleged that the money siphoned by Pravin were loans availed by HDIL from PMC Bank.
It has claimed that Varsha used the money to buy a flat at Dadar in Mumbai. The agency has found that Varsha and Madhuri are also partners in a firm called Avani Construction.
Varsha, sources said, has also received a loan of Rs 12 lakh from this company against a contribution of mere Rs 5,625 towards its capital. Sources added that the period when the loan was given to Varsha coincides with the period when PMC Bank gave loans to HDIL, which is now accused of a Rs 6,200-crore fraud at the bank. The loan taken by Varsha has remained unpaid for 10 years, said sources.
PMC Bank is under regulatory restrictions after the Reserve Bank of India found out financial irregularities in its functioning, hiding and classification of loans given to HDIL. The promoters of HDIL – Rakesh Wadhawan and Sarang Wadhawan – are currently in jail in the PMC Bank scam case.
In February, the Economic Offences Wing of the Mumbai Police had arrested Pravin after the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) complained that Guruashish Constructions was given a redevelopment project for Patra Chawl in Goregaon in Mumbai in 2007, but instead of redeveloping, the company sub-contracted the project to three developers and also mortgaged some of the property with the consent of MHADA.
Guruashish Constructions was taken to the bankruptcy court in 2017 after it defaulted on loan repayment of Rs 250 crore to the Union Bank of India. In September 2020, the National Company Law Tribunal ordered the liquidation of the company and appointed a resolution professional to oversee its liquidation. The liquidation value of the company is Rs 126 crore. Varsha, who was summoned by the ED three times in connection to the case, has sought time from the agency and will appear before it on January 5.
Sanjay Raut has said that they have been communicating with the ED for the last one-and-a-half months and have twice submitted documents sought by the agency pertaining to the loan. He also said that the transaction had no linkage to the PMC Bank scam case and the loan was declared by him in his election affidavit and also to the income tax department.
“The loan transaction is between two individuals. The loan that we have taken is on record and has been mentioned to the income tax department and in the Rajya Sabha election affidavit. We haven’t hidden anything,” Sanjay Raut said on Friday when asked why there was no formal agreement documenting the loan taken by his wife from Madhuri. Clarif-ying that he and Pravin were not related and their relationship was one of “close family friends”, the Sena MP said, “We took the loan 10 years ago. There was no PMC Bank scam then… Pravin Raut happened to be a director with HDIL.”
A prominent Canberra lawyer and accountant have been arrested as police raided businesses linked to an alleged money laundering operation.
A Canberra lawyer and accountant have been arrested for alleged plans to facilitate organised crime
The pair allegedly discussed using contracts and a business purchase to launder “large quantities of cash”
Police have seized documents from a law firm, accountancy practice and grocery store
Police executed search warrants at four businesses across the ACT region, seizing “extensive amounts of documents”.
Detective Superintendent Scott Moller said a 47-year-old man and a 54-year-old man had been arrested “for their role in facilitating organised crime in Canberra”.
They have not been charged.
He alleged the pair had met on several occasions to discuss how to “legitimise large quantities of cash”.
“It is alleged that, during those meetings, they discussed how legal contracts and agreements could be used to support a business purchase to facilitate the laundering of proceeds of crime,” Superintendent Moller said.
“Criminal activities are becoming increasingly obscure through new technologies and sophisticated methods.
The arrests follow an eight-month investigation.
“One of the members who has been arrested is part of the legal community and the other is a well-known accountant in Canberra,” Superintendent Moller said.
Asked whether the investigation was linked to outlaw motorcycle gangs, he would only say the alleged money-laundering plot was related to “organised crime in Canberra”.
However, he said tackling white-collar accomplices was “one way we can limit [bikie gangs’] activity in Canberra, because restricting professional facilitators makes it harder for them to launder their cash”.
The targeted businesses included a law firm in the city, an accountant’s practice in the southern suburb of Farrer, a grocery store in Queanbeyan across the New South Wales border, and an unspecified business in Kingston.
Police said they expected to make further arrests as the investigation continued.
Queensland police have seized $260,000 in cash after charging a 45-year-old woman with money laundering following a police investigation into alleged suspicious transactions at a Brisbane casino.
The Kelvin Grove woman was issued with a Notice to Appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court charged with money laundering and possession of tainted property.
Police said the charges stem from a five-month investigation that was sparked after officers received reports of suspicious transactions at a Brisbane casino.
Officers searched a Kelvin Grove home in August as part of the investigation, where they seized $260,000 in cash along with financial documentation and electronic items.
Police will allege the woman purchased casino chips with $40,000 cash believed to be from the proceeds of crime.
Detective Acting Superintendent Ben Fadian from the Financial and Cyber Crime Group said investigations were continuing into syndicate links and further charges could be laid.
“This arrest highlights the ongoing focus of police, working with partner agencies in targeting those individuals and criminal syndicates laundering criminal proceeds,” Detective Acting Superintendent Fadian said.
“To anyone considering accepting money from an unknown or untrusted source — be it electronically by letting your bank account be used by a third party or by ‘washing’ cash received — know that this is money laundering, a serious offence, that will bring you under the scrutiny of law enforcement.”
The woman is due to appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court on February 24.
Four people connected to two law firms raided by the state’s corruption watchdog are together facing hundreds of money fraud and money laundering charges.
The Crime and Corruption Commission has laid more than 300 charges following the raid on two Brisbane-based law offices, as well as business premises and private dwellings in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast, under Operation Mercury.
Three men and a woman are facing dozens of charges each and the raids follow the arrest of another two people earlier this year on drug charges.
The CCC said more charges are pending.
“The major crime investigation, codenamed Operation Mercury, involved a number of search warrants executed at two Brisbane-based law firms and a number of business premises and private dwellings in Brisbane and the Gold Coast throughout the 18-month investigation,” the CCC said in a statement.
“It will be alleged the four people charged on Tuesday were involved in serious fraud offences against a number of financial institutions.
“It will also be alleged those charged laundered the proceeds of serious criminal offences.”
CCC Chair Alan MacSporran QC said the scale of the alleged offending demonstrates why the crime watchdog has a continued focus on the enablers of major and organised crime.
“The CCC has an investigative focus on not just those who directly engage in major crime, but those individuals and groups of people who facilitate and enable it,” he said.
“It is disappointing and concerning, some of the allegations relate to the legal profession,” Mr MacSporran said.
The CCC has laid more than 300 charges, with a 45-year-old Helensvale man facing more than 100 charges alone.
He has been charged with multiple aggravated fraud charges, 89 counts of fraud, seven counts of fraudulent falsification of records and six counts of money laundering.
The CCC said the man is currently before the courts on a separate count of money laundering relating to the seizure of $97,000 in cash in February.
A 37-year-old Helensvale woman is facing one count of aggravated fraud, 76 counts of fraud, three counts of fraudulent falsification of records and three counts of money laundering.
A 36-year-old Helensvale man will have to answer to 12 counts of fraud, two counts of fraudulent falsification of records, one count of money laundering and one count of perjury.
A 42-year-old Ascot man has been charged with six counts of aggravated fraud, 77 counts of fraud, seven counts of fraudulent falsification of records and seven counts of money laundering.
The Ascot man was also accused of money laundering relating to the seizure of $97,000 in cash in February and in September was charged with supplying drugs, the CCC said.
All four people charged yesterday are expected to appear before the Brisbane Magistrates Court on January 11.
NSW’s gaming regulator has banned Crown Resorts from opening its new Sydney casino next month, after the company admitted money laundering had likely occurred through some of its VIP accounts.
A decision about whether Crown can keep its licence will not be made until next February
Negotiations are underway about whether Crown can open restaurants and bars in the new Barangaroo tower
The new Crown tower is among Sydney’s tallest buildings
The decision has thrown into disarray the gaming giant’s planned opening of its $2.2 billion development at Barangaroo, which includes a casino, 14 bars and restaurants, and a 350-room hotel.
NSW’s Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) made the announcement less than 24 hours after Crown admitted to an inquiry that accounts it set up for VIP players could have been used for money laundering.
The inquiry, which is also being run by the ILGA before Commissioner Patricia Bergin, SC, has been examining Crown’s fitness to hold its 99-year licence for the casino since February.
Hearings are in their final stages, but Crown dropped a bombshell by tendering the money laundering admissions late last night.
ILGA chairman Philip Crawford said: “We had no notice that was being done, I don’t think the Bergin inquiry or counsel assisting were aware of it and it’s come at the eleventh hour, literally — apparently 11:00 last night.”
Mr Crawford said the ILGA had been “surprised” by Crown’s admission and was “not comfortable” with it opening next month.
“Because when we talk about money laundering … we’re talking about potential drugs, child sexual exploitation, people trafficking and financing terrorism … you can see why we have concern,” he said.
Commissioner Bergin is due to hand down her findings in February, and Mr Crawford said the ILGA would reassess its decision after reading them.
Mr Crawford said the ILGA had attempted to work with Crown to allow other parts of the development to open.
“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,” he said.
“Initially they didn’t take us up [on that] and wanted to have a graduated opening including gaming. We’re not comfortable with that.”
In a statement released by Crown on Wednesday afternoon, the company acknowledged gaming was now off the table but said there were plans to open other parts of the Barangaroo development next month.
“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.”
Crown may have to ditch Packer
The inquiry has been examining evidence concerning suspicious activity within the VIP accounts set up by Crown.
The accounts were operated by two companies controlled by Crown known as Riverbank and Southbank.
Crown barrister Robert Craig SC on Wednesday said the company accepted the suggestion that a form of money laundering known as “cuckoo smurfing” was likely occurring, whereby large transactions are broken down into smaller deposits to avoid detection.
“Cuckoo smurfing is a sophisticated money laundering typology whereby innocent parties make and receive legitimate payments that illicit funds are inserted into the process of making those legitimate payments,” he said.
“Crown accepts that an inference can be drawn that in some point in time, deposits into the Riverbank and Southbank accounts were more probably than not part of cuckoo smurfing activity.”
The hearing has previously been told Crown’s board was unaware of the suspicious activity, flagged by the banks and later raised with senior staff.
If Crown can salvage its core gaming business, it may be forced to cut ties with major shareholder James Packer as Counsel Assisting urged the Commissioner to ban Mr Packer from associating with Crown.
During the hearings, Mr Packer admitted that a number of threatening emails he had sent to a businessman (which were not made public) were “shameful” and “disgraceful”.
NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello issued the following statement in response to Wednesday’s announcement:
“The NSW Government respects ILGA’s role as the relevant independent authority,” he said.
“We support the ongoing Bergin inquiry and await the final report early next year.”
The decision on Wednesday came after Crown’s legal team conceded to the Bergin Inquiry that criminals likely used two of its bank accounts to launder dirty cash.
Crown’s lawyers had previously urged Commissioner Patricia Bergin against finding that its bank accounts had, more probably than not, been used for money laundering despite being riddled with suspicious transactions.
However the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry heard on Wednesday morning that Crown tendered new statements at 11pm on Tuesday which outline a major about-face, based on two reviews of the accounts by consultancies Initialism and Grant Thornton.
“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.
“Crown accepts that an inference can be drawn that at some point in time, deposits into the Southbank and riverbank accounts were more probable than not part of cuckoo smurfing.”
The concession from Crown on Wednesday came as ILGA was set to meet to decide whether to prevent Crown from opening its new casino at Barangaroo next month, until the inquiry reports back on its findings by February next year.
Counsel assisting the inquiry have argued that Crown’s failure to stop money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos is one reason why it is unfit to keep the licence for its new $2.2 billion Sydney casino.
It is a most serious development.
Commissioner Patricia Bergin
Crown’s 180-degree turn on Wednesday enraged Commissioner Bergin, who demanded the company produce the legal advice which appeared to have told it not to conduct its own review into the suspected money laundering.
The use of the two accounts to bank criminal funds was first exposed by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald last year as part of a series of reports that triggered the ILGA inquiry.
“What has happened over the last 12 months, is that the counsel assisting have trawled through bank accounts with every single witness,” Commissioner Bergin said.
“And if this had happened – what happened last night at 11pm – that wouldn’t have been necessary.”
Commissioner Bergin said that in itself was relevant to her decision on Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence in NSW.
The former Supreme Court judge said the legal advice Crown had received over the past 12 months was of “very serious concern”, including what appeared to be advice from Minter Ellison that Crown should not conduct the review of its bank accounts that led to Wednesday’s admission.
“This is in the face of an inquiry – the seriousness of it cannot be understated,” Commissioner Bergin said, while ordering that copies of the advice be produced.
“It is a most serious development.”
Mr Craig said Crown regretted that the updated evidence was produced only on Tuesday night, but said it was the result of a review which “we accept should have occurred earlier”.
The Southbank and Riverbank accounts set up for patrons to deposit money for use at Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos have become a major focus of the inquiry.
The inquiry has heard that ANZ closed the accounts in 2014 after they were used for a series of cash deposits indicative of money laundering. Crown did not review the suspicious transactions, but opened new accounts with the Commonwealth Bank.
CBA shut the new accounts last year after they were also used for a string of suspicious cash transactions.
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Business reporter at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.