39 Tope has been repeatedly raided by police and subject to sex trafficking investigations between 2008 and at least 2015, while the operations of the brothel have led to major prosecutions of mid-tier workers over breaches of Victorian prostitution laws.
Documents filed in the Victorian County Court in 2015 separately detail Mr Pan’s work as “Junket Representative at Crown Casino” who “arranges people to gamble at a casino and [who] the casino pays … a commission”.
In addition to offering Mr Pan’s junket business lucrative commissions and other incentives to bring high rollers from Asia to Crown, Crown has provided Mr Pan with access to its facilities and banking systems.
Who is Simon Pan?
The documents show that Mr Pan is the representative at Crown Melbourne for a Macau junket operator, the Kim Teng Jong junket, and has given Crown high rollers millions of dollars to gamble.
Mr Pan’s partnership with Crown raises the prospect that the proceeds from his controversial brothel could be washing through the casino’s high-roller rooms.
It is also possible some of Crown’s big clients are being encouraged to attend 39 Tope — a place where federal police have rescued women they suspect of having been trafficked from Asia.
Documents obtained from South Korean police show that the AFP removed two women suspected to have been trafficked to 39 Tope in 2008, a fact that also has been reported in the media.
Well-placed sources said the investigations into 39 Tope between 2007 and 2015 had resulted in successful organised crime prosecutions of mid-tier brothel workers in the County Court in 2015 and had exposed the exploitative conditions at Mr Pan’s brothel. The sources said human trafficking charges were not laid because sex workers were too scared to testify.
However, policing agencies have repeatedly filed documents in court identifying Mr Pan as owning brothels involved in serious criminal activity and suspected human trafficking and as having alleged deep ties to organised criminals.
Sources familiar with the agents used by Crown’s high rollers said Asian sex workers have travelled on flights used to transport the super-rich gamblers.
The revelations of Crown’s partnership with Mr Pan comes after The Age and The Herald revealed on Saturday that the casino company had dealings with junkets controlled by Asian crime syndicates, including one of the world’s biggest drug trafficking gangs, which are laundering money and importing drugs into Australia.
An ex-Crown staff member, Jenny Jiang, has also blown the whistle on the company, alleging it engineered an illegal high roller gambling promotion operation across mainland China and then sought to cover it up as Chinese authorities closed in.
Crown Resorts did not answer a detailed set of questions, including about Mr Pan, saying “Crown does not comment on its business operations with particular individuals or businesses”.
However, a statement said Crown had a “comprehensive” anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing program in place, “which is subject to regulatory supervision by AUSTRAC”.
James Packer, a major Crown shareholder, said through a lawyer that he had not been an executive at Crown Resorts since 2012 and resigned as chairman in August 2015, and as a board member in December that year. He had a “passive role” at Crown, according to the lawyer’s letter.
Crown plans to open its VIP-only casino in Sydney at Barangaroo in 2021.
Crown’s Barangaroo casino, under construction.Credit:Ryan Stuart/Mark Stehle
‘The potential for exploitation’
Anti human-trafficking advocate Courtney Keefe said Crown should be held accountable for helping to finance the owner of a brothel allegedly implicated in organised crime and the exploitation of women.
“I think it’s extremely disturbing that the casino would have a contractual relationship with someone [allegedly] implicated in human trafficking,” she said.
Mr Pan’s connections to serious organised crime are detailed in various court cases, while his brothel has been named in the media as a suspected human trafficking hub. In 1998, Mr Pan was named in a migration tribunal hearing as running a massage parlour which was raided by the Victoria Police vice squad, and hosting Asian an woman suspected to be working there unlawfully.
Online articles in The Age in 2011 reveal that in 2008, the federal police rescued two suspected victims of human trafficking from Mr Pan’s South Melbourne brothel.
The Tope Street brothel, which remains popular with some of the Crown high-roller patrons according to sources with knowledge of its operations, was at the heart of a federal police operation between 2011 and 2015, code named Katrino, which targeted the trafficking of women from South and North Korea and China to Melbourne.
When interviewed this week, Mr Pan said allegations of his links to criminal activity were “bullshit” and that his dealings with Crown were licensed and appropriate.
But numerous court files reveal how a criminal syndicate that was supplying women to Mr Pan’s brothel “enticed women to work in brothels in Australia” using dozens of mobile phones subscribed in false names.
In late 2015, County Court Judge Gavan Meredith said this syndicate was involved in the “laundering of funds generated from the work of … women who were placed in a situation of potential vulnerability”.
“The potential for their exploitation was ripe.”
The woman Judge Meredith said was “at the apex of the laundering enterprise”, Mae Ja Kim, told Australian Federal Police investigators in a record of interview also aired in court that she had known Simon Pan since 2008 and “really got to know him in 2013” when she was running his South Melbourne brothel.
“Simon and I would regularly talk on the telephone. I am aware that the Australian Federal Police intercepted a number of telephone calls … when I helped organise the recruitment of females in south-east Asia to travel to Australia and provide sex work … with the full knowledge and permission of Simon.”
Ms Kim also said that while she and others ran the daily operations of the brothel, they paid Mr Pan a “weekly cut on the basis of the number of units provided to clients by sex workers”.
She also said “Simon and I discussed a similar business arrangement to what we were doing at 39 Tope by providing him with sex workers for the Cairns brothel”.
Court files reveal how the trafficking syndicate “expressed a direct interest in making sure the sex workers performed as many units as possible” at Pan’s brothel, and that “fines would sometimes be imposed if sex workers did not attend for work … or didn’t perform enough units”.
Because of the difficulty getting fearful brothel workers to testify, the Federal Police charged members of the suspected trafficking syndicate with breaches of the Victorian Sex Work Act. While police did not charge Mr Pan, they aired evidence in court that implicated him as having links to serious criminal activity.
In 2014, Victoria’s brothel regulator launched separate action against Mr Pan in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. In that action, the evidence linking Mr Pan to human trafficking was aired as the brothel regulator successfully imposed conditions on his brothel licence to prevent criminal conduct.
The revelations raise serious questions about Crown’s gaming licences and the failure of gaming regulators and state and federal agencies to effectively act on activities that Crown’s operations have enabled criminal syndicates and may have compromised Australia’s national security.
For more on this story watch 60 Minutes this Sunday at 8:40pm on Channel 9.
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Nick McKenzie is an investigative reporter for The Age. He’s won seven Walkley awards and covers politics, business, foreign affairs and defence, human rights issues, the criminal justice system and social affairs.
Business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.