Police arrested 11 people, including junket mogul Alvin Chau Cheok Wa, for alleged membership of a criminal organisation, illegal gambling operations and money laundering, in a city-wide swoop early on Saturday.
Judiciary Police (PJ) spokesman Chong Kam Leong said at a special press conference at the PJ headquarters yesterday.
Chong said the 11 people comprised nine arrestees and two suspects – nine males and two females, 10 from Macao and a male from Hong Kong.
Chong identified them as a 47-year-old businessman surnamed Chau, while the remainder told the police that they are “senior executives” – a 37-year-old man surnamed Si Tou, a 56-year-old man surnamed Cheong, a 38-year-old man surnamed Ma, a 46-year-old man surnamed Cheong, a 37-year-old man surnamed Leong, a 30-year-old woman surnamed Ho, a 36-year-old man surnamed Lui, a 40-year-old Hong Kong man surnamed Chow, a 57-year-old man surnamed Vong and a 37-year-old woman surnamed Wong.
According to Chong, the PJ have been gathering intelligence since August 2019 about an organised-crime gang allegedly headed by Chau whose organisation is operating local casino VIP rooms which set up online gambling platforms overseas and looked for mainland customers to carry out illegal online gambling.
The gang allegedly transferred the illegal profits through the customers’ VIP accounts via “underground banks” in an attempt to cover up the illegal transfer of the ill-gotten funds.
Chong said the PJ launched its in-depth investigation in April 2020. They decided to take action on Saturday morning and arrested the 11 people in various commercial buildings in NAPE as well as a residential flat in Coloane.
A large quantity of evidence including MOP 3 million in various currencies, accounting books, documents as well as a number of computers were seized in the operation. Under questioning, all of the suspects admitted to setting up the online gambling platforms overseas and carrying out online gambling and criminal activities but they refused to reveal any other information to the police.
The case came to light after the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in Wenzhou city, Zhejiang province, issued an arrest warrant for a person identified as Zhou Zhuohua on Friday. According to Macao’s customary Cantonese-Portuguese transliteration system, the name is spelt Chau Cheok Wa.
A detailed statement by the PSB in Wenzhou also named Chau’s Suncity Gaming Promotion Company Limited. The statement mentioned that Chau has been running casino junket operations in Macao since 2007 and that he set up online gambling platforms in the Philippines in 2016. The statement also said that Chau’s “crime syndicate” comprised 199 shareholders, more than 12,000 gambling agents and over 80,000 gamblers.
According to the PSB, “the amount of money involved was exceptionally large, seriously damaging our country’s social management order.” The police in Wenzhou urged Chau to give himself up as soon as possible “in order to receive lenient treatment.”
The PSB also accused Chau of recruiting mainlanders to work as agents, organising mainlanders to take part in cross-border gambling activities, as well as granting them loans and providing transportation services.
The PSB also accused Chau of setting up an asset management company in the mainland, collecting gambling debts there, assisting gamblers in cross-border money transactions and providing underground banking services.
According to media reports, one of those who were taken to the PJ headquarters on Saturday for questioning was Alvin Chau Cheok Wa, the founder and CEO of Suncity, one of Macao’s major casino junket operators.
Chau is widely known in gambling and entertainment media circles by his nickname, Sai Mei Wa (洗米華).
Asked whether the local police operation was related to Chau’s arrest warrant announced by the Wenzhou PSB, Chong said that the local police had no information “in hand” on the Wenzhou case, adding that the case has been under investigation by the PJ based on intelligence gathered since August 2019. According to Chong, the PJ are continuing their investigation into the case, looking for other persons of interest.
Following the snap press conference, officers transferred the 11 suspects from the PJ headquarters in two vans – one for Chau only – to the nearby Public Prosecutions Office (MP) in ZAPE for further investigation.
The Macao government announced on Saturday afternoon that police are questioning the head of a junket company surnamed Chau who is wanted by their counterparts in the mainland for a string of alleged gambling-related offences.
According to the government’s statement, which did not fully identify the person of interest nor his company, other people “involved” in the case were also being questioned by the police.
The statement stressed that all those working in Macao’s gaming sector “must rigorously abide by the national and local laws,” adding that the Macao authorities are pursuing a “zero-tolerance approach” towards suspected breaches of the law.
The statement also underlined that while the current law on junket operators is “relatively perfect”, future amendments to Macao’s gaming law would further strengthen the supervision of gaming operators and their activities. The government launched a public consultation of its amendment bill earlier this year.
The statement also said that the local government has been notified by the relevant law enforcement agencies in Wenzhou that the people’s prosecution office in the city of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, issued an arrest warrant for a suspect surnamed Chau.
Junket operators are intermediaries between high-rolling gamblers, extending them credit and reportedly also collecting their gambling debts. Junkets – officially known locally as “gaming promoters” – also run VIP gambling rooms on behalf of Macao’s casino operators. Junkets, which are licensed by the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, reportedly employ, directly and indirectly, thousands of people in Macao, The Macau Post Daily reported.
Gaming news outlet GGRAsia on Saturday quoted a Suncity spokesperson as saying that “all businesses are normally operating in accordance with the law and under the supervision of the Macao Special Administrative Region Government.”
Meanwhile, global newswire Reuters pointed out in a report on Saturday that Suncity’s Hong Kong-listed company, Suncity Group Holdings Ltd (1383.HK), does not include its junket operations.