Chinese crackdown on money laundering in Macau

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Macau’s government will require facial-recognition and identity-card checks for cash withdrawals made on China UnionPay bank cards, a move aimed at tackling money laundering and terrorism financing in the gambling hub.

The changes will be phased in at all ATMs in the territory and will apply to bank cards from mainland China, the Macau government said. It didn’t provide a timeframe.

Capital outflows have threatened to depress China’s currency and its capital reserves. The announcement came as Zhang Dejiang, a top-ranking Communist Party official and chairman of China’s National People’s Congress, arrived in Macau for a three-day visit. Beijing has grown increasingly concerned about capital flight, clamping down on Chinese investment overseas and more heavily scrutinising bitcoin trading that can be used by investors to move money out of China.

State-run UnionPay dominates China’s card-processing network, which means Macau’s restrictions apply to the vast majority of mainland Chinese bank cards. UnionPay didn’t respond to a request for comment.

High-spenders from the mainland, where gambling is illegal, are among the top sources of visitors to Macau, a special administrative region of China.

Macau’s gambling revenues have been picking up after a long decline due to a nationwide corruption crackdown by Chinese President Xi Jinping. In April, gross gambling revenue rose 16 per cent to 20.2 billion patacas ($3.44bn) compared with a year earlier, as highrollers returned to the gambling mecca.

Also in April, China’s foreign-exchange reserves increased by $US20.45bn from the previous month to $US3.03 trillion ($4 trillion) — their third consecutive rise — as Beijing tightened capital outflows. The reserves had dipped below $US3 trillion in January, near a six-year low.

Macau’s use of facial-recognition technology mimics a move on the mainland. Such technologies, while controversial, are being discussed by Beijing and local governments as a solution for everything from preventing too much toilet paper from being dispensed in public rest rooms to allowing entry to tourist spots.

By KATHY CHU

The Wall Street Journal

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