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Macau ATM withdrawals have surpassed the HK$10 billion a month mark. Photo: Reuters

Macau to launch facial recognition and identity card checks for ATMs after withdrawals surpass HK$10 billion a month

Announcement of anti-money-laundering measures for China UnionPay card holders coincides with visit by state leader Zhang Dejiang


Facial recognition technology will be used to scan millions of bank card users at ATMs across Macau in an unprecedented move by authorities to tackle money laundering and capital flight.

The high-tech screening system and identity checks will first be installed at ATMs in and around casinos before it is extended to cover all 1,300 cash dispensing machines in the former Portuguese enclave.

In a statement released Sunday – ahead of Chinese state leader, Zhang Dejiang’s visit to the city on Monday – the Macau government said all holders of mainland-issued China UnionPay bank cards “will be required to scan their mainland identity card and undergo a facial recognition check’’.

Officials did not put a time frame on the scheme’s implementation, but said holders of UnionPay cards issued in Macau or places outside the mainland would not be affected.

Mainlanders make up the vast majority of visitors to Macau. Out of a total of 30 million visitors last year, 20 million were from the mainland – mainly from Guangdong province.

The move came after the South China Morning Post reported that withdrawals from city’s cash dispensing machines had surpassed HK$10 billion per month and that special measures would be introduced around-the-clock to ensure ATMs never run out of bank notes.

The announcement was made on Sunday night by the Monetary Authority of Macau. Photo: Handout
Meanwhile, concerns had been growing since the prosecutions on the mainland of racketeers who were using hundreds of bank cards to withdraw cash from Macau ATMs as part of a multimillion-dollar foreign exchange scheme.

“The government will spare no effort to implement anti-money-laundering and anti-terrorism rules,” the statement said.

Withdrawals from city’s 1,300 ATM machines have surpassed HK$10 billion a month. Photo: Martin Chan

Macau has long been regarded as a major conduit for illicit funds flowing out of China, and in recent years has been a high-profile target of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

Late last year, Macau authorities slashed the amount of cash that could be withdrawn from ATMs in a single transaction from 10,000 to 5,000 patacas.

These latest measures come as Macau moves to strengthen its anti-money laundering laws and while gaming regulators increase the number of audits on VIP junket operators.

A source with knowledge of the matter said: “Clearly the earlier ATM curb didn’t do the trick, so something else had to be done. It is not often the Macau government puts out a statement on a Sunday night – perhaps it is no coincidence that Mr Zhang was arriving today.”

Thanks largely to returning high-stakes players from the mainland, Macau’s casino revenue rose 16.3 per cent to 20.2 billion patacas in April, marking the ninth straight month of growth.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: atm users face scans in macau crackdown