US ends 15-year sanction against Macau bank

Business | Winnie Lee 12 Aug 2020

The United States has lifted sanctions on Macau's Banco Delta Asia after almost 15 years.

In 2005, the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a bureau of the US Treasury Department, designated BDA as a primary money laundering concern due to its possible involvement in corrupt financial activities in North Korea. Two years later, FinCEN began levying official sanctions on the local bank.

Delta Asia Financial Group chairman Stanley Au Chong-kit said the bank will seek to resume US dollar business once it becomes appropriate.

Au ran for Chief Executive of Macau SAR in 1999 but was defeated by Edmund Ho Hau-wah. He was appointed as a lawmaker by Ho in 1999 but left Macau politics in 2005 due to his ownership of BDA during US sanctions. Au also served on the CPPCC National Committee from 2005 to 2013.

The decision comes almost a year-and-a-half ahead of the expiration of the Macau gaming licenses in 2022, with three major operators - Sands China (1928), Wynn Macau (1128) and MGM China (2282) - being US-based.

Market watchers are speculating what motivated the lifting of the sanctions, in a climate where the renewal of licenses for US gaming companies could become a bargaining chip in the ongoing trade war.

In one case, Las Vegas Sands, the owner of Sands China, donated tens of millions of US dollars to US President Donald Trump's campaign. But Morningstar predicted that US gaming companies' contribution to the overall Macau economy, as well as their huge capital investments in both gaming and non-gaming amenities, means Macau's government is unlikely to terminate licenses.

Macau has already extended MGM and SJM's (0880) licenses last March to June 2022.

Meanwhile, stocks rallied in Hong Kong with the benchmark Hang Seng Index jumping by 2.11 percent to 24,890, led by casino stocks as China lifted some restrictions on travel to Macau.

Sands China (1928) added 9.83 percent, the best performer among blue chips. Galaxy Entertainment (0027) went up by 5.47 percent.

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