Vegas Sands probes money-laundering safeguards at Singapore unit

·3-min read
Singapore - march 29, 2019 : Marina Bay Sands is an integrated resort fronting Marina Bay on a background of blue sky during the sunny day, Singapore
Las Vegas Sands Corp. set up a special committee to look into potential breaches of anti-money laundering procedures at its Singapore casino, Marina Bay Sands. (PHOTO: Getty Creative)

By Chanyaporn Chanjaroen

(Bloomberg) — Las Vegas Sands Corp. set up a special committee to look into potential breaches of anti-money laundering procedures at its Singapore casino, which has already been the target of probes by U.S. officials and local police.

The committee of three independent board members is reviewing money transfers among high-rollers and third parties at Marina Bay Sands, as well as any possible retaliation against whistle blowers, according to people familiar with the matter. U.S. law firm Vinson & Elkins LLP has been hired to assist with the review, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because of the confidentiality involved.

Las Vegas Sands declined to comment.

The investigation into the firm’s second-most profitable unit follows scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice and Singapore police after former patron Wang Xi complained Marina Bay Sands transferred S$9.1 million (US$6.8 million) from his casino account to other gamblers without his knowledge. The Wang lawsuit was settled out of court in June with “non-admission” of liability from both sides.

The DOJ is reviewing whether the casino breached money laundering controls in its treatment of high rollers and retaliated against whistle blowers who are current or former employees, according to a January 2020 subpoena issued to a former chief compliance officer.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada declined to comment. Singapore police couldn’t immediately comment.

Internal Probe

An internal investigation by the casino showed that the transactions sparking the Wang lawsuit weren’t isolated cases. Thousands of transfers worth S$1.64 billion were shuffled among gamblers by casino employees from 2010 to the end of 2018.

While the wires are legal, the probe found that several employees appear to have hijacked the process to facilitate gambling. They would get the patrons to sign a blank authorisation form, then fill in the amount of the transfer and other details for subsequent wires. At times they’d use photocopies of the same document on multiple occasions to expedite the moves, copy signatures if needed and destroy the originals, people familiar with the transfers have said.

Marina Bay Sands has said it’s cut back on third-party transfers and tightened security over their usage. Documents seen by Bloomberg show the amount of transfers dropped to just six in 2018 from a peak of 1,011 in 2014.

Vinson & Elkins, based in Houston, has over 700 attorneys around the world, many of whom have worked in government.

Sands is in transition following the death of founder Sheldon Adelson in January. Earlier this month the company announced it was selling its flagship Venetian resort in Las Vegas to Apollo Global Management Inc. for US$6.25 billion so that it can focus on Asia and other opportunities.

Chief Compliance Officer Stuart Altman is leaving at the end of March for another firm, though his departure isn’t related to any probes, the people said. His job is being filled on an interim basis while the company looks for a successor, one of the people said.

Altman declined to comment. He joined the company in 2018 from Intel Corp. and was a partner at Hogan Lovells U.S. LLP in Washington before that, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Singapore-based Andrew MacDonald, the chief casino officer, will be spending more time at the Las Vegas headquarters where he reports to new Chief Executive Officer Rob Goldstein, according to the people. MacDonald will be reviewing new business opportunities for the company, including sports betting, one of the people said.

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