On Tuesday, a public inquiry into Star Sydney’s licensing suitability focused on the relationship between the casino’s head of VIP operations and alleged corporate fraudster Michael Gu.
Gu, whereabouts unknown, was the head of Sydney-based property group iProsperity until it collapsed in 2020, owing around US$245 million to investors.
The inquiry heard Gu lost AU$5.1 million (US$3.6 million) gambling at the Star from 2017 onwards. Meanwhile, his business partner in iProsperity, Harry Huang, also a fugitive, deposited a total of AU$13 million (US$9.2 million) at the casino, including AU$1.35 million (US$960,000) after the company collapsed.
In October last year, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Star Sydney’s senior vice president of high roller operations, Mark Walker, “maintained a secret and longstanding relationship” with Gu.
$100M in the Bank
Walker and Gu met when he was an executive at Crown Melbourne. Gu was a valued VIP at the casino, depositing at least AU$8 million (US$5.7 million), according to liquidators tasked with tracing the missing funds.
When Walker left Crown for Star in mid-2017, Gu followed. A year later, Gu even offered Walker a AU$580,000-a-year job (US$412,000) to run the Casino Canberra, which at the time he wanted to buy from Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung. The deal fell through.
On Tuesday, the inquiry was told that Walker visited Gu at iProsperity’s HQ in 2019 to discuss money he owed the casino. Gu insisted he was good for it by showing Walker the company’s bank balance, which stood at AU$100 million (US$71 million).
Counsel assisting the inquiry Penelope Abdiel asked Walker whether this should have set alarm bells ringing because it hinted that Gu planned to use company funds for gambling.
“Mr Walker, were you being willfully blind to the prospect that there was a possibility that Mr Gu might use investor funds to pay down his gambling debts?” Abdiel asked.
“He was showing me the health of his business,” Walker replied.
The inquiry also heard that Gu could be verbally abusive to staff members. In January 2019, he told a casino worker she was “dead.” That’s after she refused to cash his chips in a way that would have violated casino policy and then turned her back on him.
Walker arranged for Gu to receive AU$100,000 (US$71,000) worth of free gambling chips to compensate him for his ordeal.
“He’s very confident, very arrogant,” Walker explained.
The ongoing inquiry is investigating media allegations that Star flouted anti-money laundering rules and did business with junket operators linked to organized crime and other criminals.
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