Triads infiltrate Soho casino - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

Chinese gangsters are alleged to be laundering cash by lending it illegally to hapless punters on a losing streak
One of London's most popular casinos is under investigation following allegations that Chinese gangsters are using the venue to launder vast sums of illicit cash from extortion, vice and people smuggling operations.

News of the Gaming Board investigation into Napoleons Casino comes just days after the Government's controversial Gambling Bill received royal assent.

The bill, which deregulates the industry and allows for the creating of 'super-casinos', had been strongly opposed because of fears that it will encourage punters to fall into debt and make casinos vulnerable to infiltration by organised crime.

The Gaming Board is looking into activities at Napoleons Casino, in Leicester Square, which draws a significant proportion of its members from the Chinese and south-east Asian community living in nearby Chinatown.

Casino staff have told The Observer that several suspected money lenders operate in the casino and that they are believed to have links with Triads, the ancient Chinese underworld societies that make millions of pounds from a range of criminal activities in Chinatown.

The lenders are said to carry large quantities of cash to pass on to gamblers who have lost all their money, enabling them to carry on betting anyway.

Staff claim to have seen individuals hand out as much as ??25,000 in a single evening. Commercial loans are outlawed by legislation which forbids casinos to allow gaming on credit because it encourages debt.

Casinos are required to bar anyone suspected of making such loans, but current and former employees of Napoleons claim this practice is rife.

'We see it going on all the time and everyone knows about it, but it is simply swept under the carpet,' one croupier told The Observer. 'It's always the same people who are lending money and the lenders rarely gamble themselves. It's purely a commercial transaction.'

The lenders are believed to charge interest at the massive rate of 10 per cent per week, and it is alleged that intimidation and violence has been directed at those who fail to repay debts.

Although the casino - which is subject to regular inspections by the Gaming Board - has barred some members who have been accused of lending money commercially, staff claim that others continue to operate freely.

An inquest last June into the death of Chinese illegal immigrant You Yi He, who had been shot dead at the BRB bar in Chinatown a year earlier, heard that he was 'actively involved' in commercial money lending.

You Yi He, who is thought by police to have been a member of a Triad gang called 14K, was the subject of a police investigation into people-smuggling at the time of his death.

He was also a long-standing member of Napoleons and, according to staff, was part of a team lending money there regularly.

The Observer has learnt that shortly before he was shot in broad daylight he had been barred from the casino, allegedly for attacking customers.

He had been allowed to return to the casino just weeks before his death. The murder remains unsolved.

The Gaming Board investigation was prompted by allegations made by Patrick McGrath, a former gaming inspector at Napoleons, who took the casino to an employment tribunal claiming he had been compelled to leave after reporting incidents of potential money lending to the management.

In a statement to the tribunal the casino's director, Kevin Hopley, admitted money lending did take place but denied any breach of gaming regulations, insisting that none of the transactions was commercial.

'Money lending taking place in the casino is between friends and is endemic of Chinese, Vietnamese and other Oriental cultures,' Hopley said.

'Very often, if such a member has been lucky and has a win, it is part of their culture to lend money to their friends who have not been so lucky.

'The sums of money that are loaned by high rollers can sometimes amount to several thousand pounds in cash.'

Although McGrath lost his case, the Gaming Board decided his allegations were serious enough to warrant further investigation.

The board wrote to staff at the casino earlier this year and has carried out a number of inspections and interviews in recent weeks. Its findings are expected to be announced later this month.

Those opposed to the deregulation of the gambling industry, including the Conservatives and a number of senior police officers, fear that organised crime gangs may have infiltrated a number of casinos and that a relaxation of the rules could see their influence spread even further.

If the loans are repaid using gaming chips or cheques drawn on casinos, these can be used to disguise the source of the income, thus allowing drug and vice money to be laundered.

When asked by The Observer to respond to the allegations Hopley said: 'I'm astonished that you know about this. As far as I'm concerned the Gaming Board have finished their investigation, and they are more than happy with the way we conduct our business.'

However a spokesman for the board stressed that the investigation was still continuing.

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