Senior officials at the Australian Border Force and Department of Home Affairs are among witnesses called to public hearings launched by the federal law enforcement watchdog as it probes corruption claims involving casino giant Crown Resorts.
The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) is holding public hearings next week for the first time in its history in a major escalation of its inquiry into interactions between Crown Resorts personnel and the Department of Home Affairs over visas for 'high rollers' which the agency said raised "issues of corruption".
The ACLEI's investigation was launched following revelations by The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes about Crown's lucrative business of luring ultra-wealthy Chinese gamblers to its casinos in Australia, sometimes with the assistance of firms backed by powerful Asian crime gangs.
The investigation revealed that a serving Australian Border Force official, Andrew Ure, provided private protection for an international fugitive who was recruiting VIPs to gamble at Crown, in possible breach of the force's strict professional standards.
The investigation also revealed a close relationship between Crown Resorts and Australian visa and consulate officials in China, which often fast-tracked visas for wealthy gamblers to come to Crown's casino venues in Melbourne and Perth despite some posing potential security risks or being persons of interest to law enforcement.
A preliminary witness list for ACLEI's hearings, released on Wednesday, show Australian Border Force (ABF) deputy commissioner Mandy Newton and the Department of Home Affairs' first assistant secretary Peta Dun have been called to give evidence when they start on Tuesday next week.
The third witness called to give evidence is former Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg, who told The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes that two ministers and another MP lobbied him to help "smooth out" the border security processes for Crown's Chinese high-rollers.
Mr Quaedvlieg claimed Crown wanted its big gamblers to be able to "land on a private jet at Melbourne airport, receive the minimal amount of clearances, put them in cars, get them into a casino and spending money".
Crown's executive chairman, John Alexander, has previously said the company intended to use state and federal inquiries launched into its dealings with Chinese gambling tour operators, known as junkets, as a "forum to provide our perspective". He has described media reports as sensationalist, adding it came as "no surprise" that regulators and other agencies launched inquiries as a result.
Crown has declined to comment on whether any of its executives have been called to appear at ACLEI's hearings. The agency has the power to coerce witness to give evidence.
The ACLEI hearings come as the New South Wales gambling regulator conducts its own inquiry into Crown’s behaviour, and Hong Kong casino tycoon Lawrence Ho’s Melco Resorts’ purchase of a 20 per cent stake in Crown.