PI tracks journalist linked to Tom Zhou high-roller junket

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
Incoming Crown CEO lays down plan for the future

A private investigator was employed by a former Crown Resorts executive to undertake surveillance on an Australian journalist in the wake of explosive revelations made against the casino operator.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Victoria’s royal commission into Crown has heard from a private investigator, who is close friends with Crown’s general manager of surveillance and security, Craig Walsh.

The inquiry heard Mr Walsh asked the former homicide detective, whose name has been suppressed, in April 2016, to work with Tom Zhou, one of Crown’s most important high-roller “junket” operators, because he needed personal security advice.

It was revealed in 2018 that Mr Zhou, also known as “Mr Chinatown”, was an international fugitive implicated in money laundering, extortion, Chinese government foreign influence operations and had associations with drug and human traffickers.

The security contractor said he worked for Mr Zhou for five months, during which time he helped operate his “junket” business, which brought Chinese high rollers to gamble millions of dollars at Australian casinos.

The security contractor maintained a close relationship with Mr Walsh while working with Mr Zhou, the commission heard, and in May 2016 he emailed Mr Walsh a surveillance log from a private detective he had engaged to follow journalist Mark Hawthorne.

The private investigator said he engaged the private detective on behalf of Ishan Ratnam, a senior figure at Crown who held roles including vice-president of VIP gaming and “special assistant” to James Packer, Crown’s major shareholder and former executive chairman.

Mr Ratnam left Crown in March 2021.

Mr Hawthorne had written a series of stories about Mr Ratnam’s involvement in an alleged scheme by Fiat Chrysler Australia’s former boss Clyde Campbellm to rip off the global automaker.

He declined to comment when contacted on Thursday.

Journalist surveillance comes into question at royal commission

“You engaged a private detective to do surveillance on a journalist who had been investigating Ishan Ratnam…and then you reported it to Craig Walsh,” counsel assisting the inquiry Adrian Finanzio asked.

“Why?”

“Because I don’t think I had direct communication with Ishan,” the witness replied.

“So you went through Craig Walsh to Ishan,” Mr Finanzio asked.

“Yeah,” he replied.

The inquiry heard that the private contractor once asked Mr Walsh to act as a referee for Mr Zhou to lease a property in Sydney.

He also sent Mr Walsh a text message from one of Crown’s VIP gaming salons, boasting that Mr Zhou’s “Chinatown” junket had just turned over $10 million in bets.

“Bring it on,” Mr Walsh responded.

Zhou arrested in Vanuatu and extradited to China

The security contractor said Mr Zhou sometimes paid him in cash and on one occasion he travelled with Mr Zhou and a group of gamblers to New Zealand.

Federal police boarded their private jet at Coolangatta airport before departure, in an incident previously reported.

At the Auckland casino, the contractor said he looked after NZ$24 million in gambling chips and returned to Australia with NZ$180,000 in cash in a brown paper bag.

Despite these events, the former police officer said he did not have any suspicions about Mr Zhou’s probity until he learnt that he had been arrested in Vanuatu and extradited to China in early 2020 for suspected money laundering and corruption.

The man said he could not remember whether he told Mr Walsh about any of the events that could have raised questions about the legality of Mr Zhou’s business.

“I was naive and just thought they were licensed blokes with plenty of cash who were just doing what they wanted to do because they had plenty of money,” he said.

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