Public hearings into Star Entertainment Group’s Queensland casino operations, starting today, will examine how the state government approved a key partner in its AU$3.6 billion Queen’s Wharf Brisbane development despite known links to organized crime syndicates in Macau.
Australian media outlet ABC Investigations this week raised questions over Star’s relationship with Chow Tai Fook – the Hong Kong-listed jewelry giant with close ties to the late Stanley Ho’s casino empire and Alvin Chau’s Suncity Group. Chow Tai Fook and Hong Kong development giant Far East Consortium each hold a 4.99% stake in Star and a 25% stake in the Queen’s Wharf project, due to open next year.
In particular, the investigation raises questions as to how probity checks conducted into Chow Tai Fook failed to uncover the company’s links to companies blacklisted by regulators around the world, including south of the border in NSW. The jewelry giant is headed by Henry Cheng, who owns a 10% interest in Stanley Ho’s STDM inherited from his father and long-time associate of Ho, Cheng Yu-tu. STDM is majority owner of Macau casino concessionaire SJM Holdings, which counts Chow Tai Fook’s Patrick Tsang among its Board of Directors.
In Vietnam, Chow Tai Fook and Suncity Group are two of the three investors in Hoiana, an integrated resort located near Hoi An and opened in mid-2020.
ABC Investigations also found direct business links between Chow Tai Fook and renowned triad boss Wan Kuok Koi, popularly known as “Broken Tooth”.
Despite Chow Tai Fook failing probity checks in NSW in 1987, and pulling out of a later bid to avoid similar scrutiny, Queensland officials told ABC Investigations that they had found no evidence of criminal links before approving the company’s investment in Star in 2016.
Queensland Attorney General Shannon Fentiman, who recently announced today’s inquiry into Star following a similar review held in NSW recently, said the government had “worked very closely with the Hong Kong police, other international regulators and also sought advice from the New South Wales and Queensland Police” – describing their checks as “extensive” before they found the jewelry giant suitable.
Former Queensland auditor-general Len Scanlan, who was probity adviser on the project, said, “I have no recollection of those [allegations]. It is news to me,” he said. “I think it would have been [a red flag] for anyone, to be honest.”
Former Queensland premier Campbell Newman, who kicked off the Queen’s Wharf process before his government was beaten by the current Annastacia Palaszczuk government at the 2015 election, said he was never made award of Chow Tai Fook’s connections.
“The Newman government should have been made aware and the Palaszczuk government frankly shouldn’t have made the decision they’ve made because these things were there and they’re discoverable,” he said.
“I’m quite prepared to say I believe the process was tainted.
“The revelations I am now seeing are appalling. It disturbs me that both in Queensland and interstate, regulators have not got to the bottom of these things and it’s time that we know why.”
Queensland’s inquiry into Star began in July but has so far taken place behind closed doors.
When first announcing the inquiry in June, Fentiman said the government was not looking to halt the Queen’s Wharf development.
“I’m not going to pre-empt any of the findings of a review, but even if a casino is found to not be suitable there are things we can put in place provisionally to make sure they do meet all the expectations of the regulator and the community,” she said.