LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Money laundering in the hundreds of millions of dollars, heroin trafficking and the life of a casino high roller. Welcome to the world of Vietnamese refugee-turned-millionaire gambler and crook Pete Hoang. His life offers a fascinating glimpse inside the world of organised crime and raises serious questions about how he laundered so much money in Australia for so long.
Dylan Welch and Nikki Tugwell prepared this report.
DYLAN WELCH, REPORTER: It’s a Saturday night in Sydney inside the luxury apartment of drug trafficker Pete Hoang. He’s getting ready for a midnight meeting in the city’s west.
Hoang’s movements that night have been pieced together by police.
MICK WILLING, NSW POLICE HOMICIDE SQUAD COMMANDER: He drove directly to Dunmore Street at Croydon Park, where we think he waited for someone or met someone there. We know that Mr Hoang got out of his car in Dunmore Street around midnight and was on the sidewalk, when a male person approached him from a unit block adjacent to where he was standing and fired a number of shots and killed him then and there.
NEWSREADER: A man has been killed in a brazen public shooting in Sydney’s inner-west. Police are appealing to the public for help as they investigate links to organised crime.
MICK WILLING: We have witnesses who see a lowered white or grey-coloured hatchback with a large spoiler that was around the vicinity of Dunmore Street at the time. We think that those persons or persons in that vehicle may have something to do with the murder and we’re hoping that we can identify who they are.
DYLAN WELCH: Hoang was a bit player in a heroin syndicate who had gone on to become one of Australia’s biggest drug money launderers.
MICK WILLING: We’ve received information from a variety of sources which would suggest that he was involved in large-scale drug supply and in the movement of money through casinos across Australia for some time now, a number of years in fact.
DYLAN WELCH: Hoang’s life and violent death shines a light on the world of professional money laundering, a vast and growing industry in Australia.
SCOTT COOK, NSW POLICE ORGANISED CRIME SQUAD COMMANDER: It’s right across our economy and right across our society. The Australian Crime Commission estimate that about $15 billion is lost to organised crime to the national economy. Most of that is done through money laundering processes. So it’s a significant lifeblood of organised crime.
DYLAN WELCH: $15 billion a year?
SCOTT COOK: Yeah.
DYLAN WELCH: Hoang, seen here at a court appearance this year, was part of a Vietnamese-Australian heroin syndicate run by a man police nicknamed “Batman”.
Veteran organised crime investigator Michael Purchas led a ground-breaking operation in 2005 called Taskforce Gordian-Katakan. Its surveillance revealed heroin profits being laundered through money transfer companies in Sydney and in Melbourne.
MICHAEL PURCHAS, FMR AUST. CRIME COMMISSION INVESTIGATOR: The size of the problem was massive, not what had been considered as the size of it prior to Gordian-Katakan. We were talking about billions of dollars.
DYLAN WELCH: Purchas’ taskforce secretly recorded money transfer staff handling bags containing hundreds of thousands in cash.
The taskforce traced the money to a Hong Kong-based organised crime syndicate.
MICHAEL PURCHAS: If you’re thinking in terms of the Ong Ngoai syndicate, that’s an international syndicate, that this would – the local end of it would’ve been the 21 minor feeders.
DYLAN WELCH: One of those feeders, or subsidiaries, was Hoang’s outfit, the “Batman” syndicate. Police didn’t have enough evidence to charge them and Hoang and the others escaped arrest.
This was just the beginning for Pete Hoang. He became a key money launderer in Australia and began to receive millions in cash from organised criminal syndicates. Some casinos, like The Star, forbade him from gambling and kicked him out repeatedly. Others treated him like a king.
7.30 has learned that Hoang laundered hundreds of millions in drug money, but much of it was gambled at Crown Casino in Melbourne.
LINDA HANCOCK, GAMBLING POLICY, DEAKIN UNI.: What’s interesting about Mr Hoang’s gambling patterns is that they were such big stakes. You know, he’s reported as having staked over $100,000 on a hand. So this would be reported in the log under: big bets for purposes of international fraud and money laundering requirements. So, one has to raise huge questions about why his links to drug money wasn’t – or weren’t found earlier.
DYLAN WELCH: In a 2012 court case, Crown Casino’s compliance manager testified that Hoang bought gambling chips worth $75 million between 2000 and 2012, which she estimated equalled a turnover of three times that amount. The prosecutor suggested the turnover could be as high as one billion.
LINDA HANCOCK: This is an amazing amount of money. He would be accounting for a very high proportion of gambled funds. He would be what’s called in the business I think a person of interest. So you would think that there would be a trigger between any casino and the police for such a person of interest.
DYLAN WELCH: In his decade of gambling, Crown lavished on Hoang accommodation in luxury suites such as this, as well as free business-class flights, food, booze and cash payments up to $100,000. Hoang gambled under his name and three aliases – James Ho, John Ho, Patrick Lu. He was issued loyalty cards in all four names by Crown.
LINDA HANCOCK: This is where casinos are part of the laundering system and they become the beneficiaries of the proceeds of crime. So when it’s found out, why don’t they have to give it back?
DYLAN WELCH: It wasn’t until September, 2012 that police began investigating Hoang after he withdrew $2.3 million from his Crown Casino account.
A month later, on the morning of October 12, Hoang called his usual VIP host at Crown and said he’d be bringing a million in cash. She arranged business-class flights from Sydney to Melbourne.
Hoang and one of his travel companions arrived at Crown with two suitcases filled with $1.5 million. The suitcases were taken to one of the casino’s most prestigious places, the high roller-only Mahogany Room.
Hoang arrived at a private gaming salon about 1.30 am to play baccarat. Minutes after, he was arrested by police.
When he was shot dead two years later, he was awaiting trial for laundering the proceeds of crime.
SCOTT COOK: From a casino perspective, they’re just other patrons and I guess organised crime sees it in two ways. They see it as a place to flaunt their wealth, but they also see it as a place where they can perhaps infiltrate or manipulate the processes and systems in order to launder cash. Casinos deal in large quantities of cash. Organised crime has large quantities of cash that they want to launder. So it’s a perfect fit in that sense.
DYLAN WELCH: Crown declined to answer 7.30’s questions, except to say it had been assisting state and federal law enforcement agencies for some time regarding Mr Hoang.
LEIGH SALES: Dylan Welch reporting.
THE VIDEO GREED IS GOOD!! This is the mentality that drives corruption.