The acquisition of almost 20% of the shares of Australian casino operator Crown Resorts by influential businessman and Asian casino owner Lawrence Ho, may not be reversed after the criminal investigation opened by the New Liquors and Games Independent Authority South Wales (LGA).
The negotiation agreement announced in May between Ho’s Melco Resorts & Entertainment (MRE) and James Packer, Crown’s largest shareholder, to acquire 19.99% of the company for AU $ 1.76b (US $ 1.22b), is going through serious difficulties with Australian justice, after Australian media reported on Crown-related allegations of money laundering and other criminal activities.
The LGA said it is investigating the sale of Crown shares to Melco Resorts and Entertainment, which controls half of these shares since May 6. After the news of the investigation became known, Crown said in a brief statement that intends to “cooperate fully in connection with this investigation.”
The investigation of the sale of shares of Consolidated Press Holdings to MRE, was opened by the LGA after the Australian media 60 Minutes, Nine Network, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed a series of documents contained in the stock exchange file of Hong Kong Securities, which clearly indicates that Lawrence Ho was the director of Lanceford Company Ltd until June 28.
Crown was prohibited from conducting business with Lanceford and with 58 other companies. In 2014, before the New South Wales Authorities granted Crown Resorts a casino license to operate in Sydney, they included a condition under which
“any new commercial activity or transaction of a material nature between Stanley Hung Sun Ho was prohibited or an associate of Stanley Ho and Crown, any of Crown’s officers, directors or employees or any subsidiary of Crown.”
Stanley Ho is the father of Lawrence Ho and is already retired from the casino administration. He founded SJM Holdings Ltd, one of the six current casino operators in Macau and elsewhere in Asia. Stanley was previously accused of being linked to the Hong Kong triads.
Apart from SJM and the other companies, the ban list includes Shun Tak Holdings, the conglomerate that operates the ferry service used by MRE to transport players from Hong Kong to Macao.
On the investigation opened by the LGA, Lawrence Ho has not commented yet. However, at the time of the acquisition of the shares of CPH Crown Holdings Pty Ltd, he said that this participation represented a great opportunity for Melco and was open to any type of regulatory scrutiny on the negotiation.
Australian media have said that through Crown Resorts and gambling, murky businesses related to money laundering and organized Chinese crime would be taking place.
However, before these accusations Crown was already being investigated for other alleged illegal activities by several Australian government agencies such as the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the game regulators of the state of Victoria.
In it disclaimer, Crown commented that has been the victim of “a deceptive campaign” by the media based on “baseless accusations, exaggerations, unsupported connections and absolute falsehoods” and insisted that he will cooperate fully with the investigation.