Crown inquiry continues as Packer and Mitchell give evidence
A New South Wales inquiry into Crown Resorts’ suitability to hold a casino licence in the state has continued, with the resorts billionaire James Packer accepting partial responsibility for the organisation’s failing in China that lead to the arrest of staff.
Sky News reports that Mr Packer faced a second day of questioning last week, with the inquiry set to determine the future of the company’s new Sydney casino.
The probe is investigating claims the company allowed money laundering and was linked to organised crime to determine whether Crown is fit to hold its Sydney casino licence.
Mr Packer is under pressure to explain risk management failures that led to the arrest of Crown staff in China four years earlier, claiming critical information was withheld from him by former chief executive Rowen Craigie.
The appearance of Mr Packer at the inquiry last week was followed by Crown director Harold Mitchell, who told the inquiry he hoped to never heard the word “junket” again.
Mr Mitchell, who has been a Crown director since 2011, was questioned about his knowledge of Crown’s dealings with junket operators and high rollers with links to organised crime gangs and the group’s troubles in China that led to the arrests of 19 Crown staff in 2016.
Mr Mitchell, who counted media mogul Kerry Packer as a close business associate, defended his decision to remain on the board of Crown after ruling earlier this year that he breached his duties as a director of Tennis Australia when he passed information in late 2012 to a third party, Bruce McWilliam at Seven Network, describing his infringement as “minor”.
Mr Mitchell also defended his independence as a Crown director after it emerged he received a $1.9 million interest-free loan from Kerry Packer during the early 1990s recession that saved him from bankruptcy, saying Mr Packer was a kind man who helped many people.
High roller influence called into question
Mr Mitchell was taken to reports on the criminal activities of one high roller Crown dealt with, Qiyum Zhou, and shown photos of Crown executive Barry Felstead with his arm around Mr Zhou.
He was also taken to emails that showed Crown staff in China had been threatened with violence if they stopped advancing credit to Mr Zhou.
Mr Mitchell said these concerns were never reported to the board.
“It should have,” he said.
Mr Mitchell was also adamant that Crown staff should have never engaged with such dubious figures.
“What we’re talking about should not have happened.”
As a member of the board, Mr Mitchell said he was not specifically aware of the details of junket operators and up until recently, he only had a vague understanding of what they did.
Asked by counsel assisting the inquiry Scott Aspinall: “Are you aware now what a junket is?”
Mr Mitchell responded: “I think for some time I heard the word, and I hope that I never hear it again.”
He also told the inquiry that Crown’s board did not review the bank accounts of two shell companies set up by the casino operator to make it easier for high rollers looking to gamble in Australia to avoid raising red flags with Chinese authorities cracking down on capital being taken out of the country.
“I had assumed the executives would,” Mr Mitchell said.
Mr Mitchell’s appeared followed Mr Packer’s at the inquiry, who delivered a bombshell during that evidence, including admitting he sent a threatening email to a private equity executive looking to privatize Crown.
Mr Packer also revealed he accepted the inquiry might cap his stake in Crown, which currently sits at 36 per cent.
The inquiry continues this week.