20 January 2016
by Joanne McCarthy
Mystery of $600,000 found in The Star casino safety deposit box
Police found more than $600,000 in a casino safety deposit box.
It is the money laundering story that has everything - a casino gambler, a pile of cash, a fake "uncle", and a quick trip to Newcastle to see a woman about a brothel.
Singapore national San Wei Koh is in a NSW jail after police collected more than $600,000 from a safety deposit box at The Star casino in Sydney, and Koh told them the story about his aunt in Newcastle.
A NSW judge who sentenced Koh to at least nine months jail wasn't quite sure what to believe, but had no doubt he shouldn't believe everything.
"The facts are somewhat convoluted. They have a sense of being less than the full narrative," said Judge Graeme Henson, after Koh pleaded guilty to two counts of dealing with property suspected of being the proceeds of crime.
In a sentence published on Monday, Judge Henson noted Koh arrived in Australia in April last year and declared he did not have more than $10,000 in Australian money.
"That assertion may or may not have been true," the judge said.
Within eight days of arriving in Australia, Koh deposited nearly $300,000 in a Star Casino safety deposit box. The next day he added more than $700,000 cash.
Koh's gambling, and significant cash withdrawals, led casino staff to contact police who arrived, found $600,000 in the safety deposit box, and listened as Koh told them the story about his aunt in Newcastle.
The $700,000 deposit was her money, the proceeds of a brothel business, and she asked him to collect it for her ex-husband living in China, Koh said.
"He asserted he attended his aunt's premises, she was not home, he entered the premises through an unlocked back door, found a suitcase in his aunt's bedroom, and took a suitcase he found and left. He said he did not look inside the suitcase," Judge Henson said.
Koh told police he found $700,000 when he eventually opened the suitcase, transferred $100,000 to his uncle in China, and left the rest in the safety deposit box.
He couldn't explain where the $300,000 deposit came from, and another $200,000 "appears to be unaccounted for to any plausible detail", Judge Henson said.
"It is implicit in the plea that he knew the cash money was the proceeds of criminal activity."
Police later confirmed the uncle in China did not exist. The Newcastle "aunt" and her partner denied being related to Koh and denied being the source of the $700,000.
"Whether that is true in fact is unknown," Judge Henson said.
The court was told Koh provided information that led to the confiscation of $1.59 million in "tainted money" and the charging of two other people with money laundering offences.
Judge Henson rejected the defence's argument for a suspended sentence, but reduced the sentence because of Koh's assistance to police.
A suspended sentence would provide "no deterrence to those involved in organised crime conducted on a transnational basis such as exhibited in these proceedings," the judge said.
"The ability for persons to enter Australia from overseas, facilitate the washing of money through a casino and leave before the agencies of law enforcement are aware of their presence and conduct is such that the need for general deterrence is paramount," Judge Henson said.
The $600,000 was seized and forfeited. Koh is expected to be deported on release.