While high roller Mr Chia Teck Leng from Singapore sits in jail for embezzlement, is the next target the casinos, including Melbourne’s Crown Casino, which pocketed his pots of cash?
Allow me to introduce Mr Chia who recently wrote a fascinating 5,700 word paper on the debate currently raging in Singapore, now that it has decided to legalise casino gambling.
However, we won’t see Mr Chia embarking on a speaking tour to discuss his thesis; he’s currently serving a 42-year sentence in Changi prison for the biggest case of commercial fraud in Singapore’s history. Mr Chia defrauded four overseas banks, convincing them to lend him SG$117 million (AU$88 million) in the name of his then employer Asia Pacific Breweries (APB). APB, a joint venture between Heineken and the Fraser and Neave group, brews Tiger Beer, popular across Asia.
Needless to say the banks’ money failed to make its way into the brewery’s coffers. The majority of the SG$117 million was gambled away at various casinos around the world by Mr Chia, who was then APB’s finance manager. In fact our very own Crown Casino in Melbourne loomed large in Mr Chia’s fraudulently funded gambling spree. It is said that over the three to four years he played at Crown, Mr Chia was flown to Melbourne in luxury private jets more than fifty times.
Over this period, it’s alleged he deposited no less than AU$190 million into his Crown casino gambling account. Chia himself admits he was capable of losing millions in a day, and in fact would bet up to $1 million on a single hand. At his very peak he was acknowledged as the second biggest gambler in the world.
How nice for Crown Casino to be a lucky recipient of Mr Chia’s largesse! I’m sure it wasn’t too motivated to investigate the source of Chia’s funds or to find out who he was employed by. Of course Chia was afforded all the normal perks and inducements commensurate with his level of play — staying in Crown Casino’s very best room, the famed 3918 with its private butler and million dollar views of the city.
But this is where the story gets interesting.
The four defrauded banks, two from Europe and two from Japan, have just commenced an action in Singapore’s High Court to recover the money from APB, citing the fact that Chia was indeed APB’s finance manager and thus empowered to take out the loans – which should now be repaid. APB counters that the bank’s systems of internal control were inadequate, and they only have themselves to blame for handing out the money so easily, as Chia was not authorised to borrow the money. It is anticipated that during the case Chia himself will take the stand, and this may well shed light on the operational methods employed by Crown Casino and other casinos around the world – a subject normally shrouded in secrecy.
It is easy to compare the Chia case to one I have written of previously, that of Kim Faithfull, formerly manager of the Commonwealth Bank in Karratha, Western Australia. Faithfull lost $17 million of embezzled funds to IASBet, a Northern Territory based bookmaker headed by celebrity bookie Mark Read. CBA sued IAS, alleging IAS “wilfully shut its eyes to Faithfull’s fraud, or consciously refrained from inquiry” as to the source of the stolen funds, and sought $17 million compensation. The judge questioned how the “absolutely breathtaking” thefts could go undetected by the CBA for so long, but also how IAS continued to take the bets, knowing who Faithfull was and what he did for a living. Years of legal battles ensued, before IAS finally settled, repaying the CBA $7 million. The IAS board described the settlement as “fair and reasonable”.
I wonder if Asia Pacific Breweries is tempted to mount an action against Crown Casino? They certainly have deep pockets.