Crown’s heavy hitters to front inquiry

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
Crown?s Victorian royal commission gets underway

Crown Resorts heavyweights are set for a big fortnight as one of Australia’s most secretive public companies and its shareholders are scheduled to appear as witnesses before the New South Wales government’s Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry. 

The Australian Financial Review reports Crown board member Michael Johnstone, who is the finance director at James Packer’s private company Consolidated Press Holdings, is set to appear, as is current chief executive Ken Barton.

Next week, Mr Packer is scheduled to appear, alongside his close confidante and CPH chief executive and former Crown executive chairman John Alexander.

Over two-and-a-half weeks Crown’s directors and management are to be questioned and cross-questioned by the authority as it picks apart the company’s inner workings and conversations about a controversial strategy to attract “high rollers” to its casinos.

A final report is expected by February 2021.

Crown compliance called into question

Anti-money laundering compliance by Crown Resorts has once again come under the microscope.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in September that the organisation never received a “gold star” from an independent expert, despite claims by the casino’s former boss John Alexander. 

Neil Jeans from the anti-money laundering consultancy Initialism, told the New South Wales government’s inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence in the state last week that Mr Alexander’s comments to the press on August 21 last year did not reflect his advice to the company.

“That is not language I have ever used prior to this article being presented, in any report to any customer or in any meeting with any customer,” Mr Jeans said.

The inquiry follows an investigation in 2019 where Crown’s business with junket operators linked to powerful Asian crime gangs highlighted that its gaming floors were used to launder dirty cash.

Mr Alexander used Mr Jean’s work for Crown as part of an aggressive defence of the ASX-listed group’s reputation.

“Mr Jeans as recently as yesterday… told the board that we are completely compliant. We are a gold star customer,” Mr Alexander said during a media conference.

The comments made headlines in several major newspapers.

Victorian government still waiting on “urgent” Crown Casino investigation

The Victorian government is yet to hear back from the state’s regulator about the findings of an “urgent” investigation into the infiltration of organised crime at the state’s only casino. 

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in September that the state government ordered the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation to probe Crown Resorts’ involvement with junket operators, tied to powerful Asian crime syndicates.

The regulator is yet to report back to the government, with Victoria’s then-gaming minister, Marlene Kairouz, who quit the ministry in June, said the gambling regulator would examine the issues “as a matter of priority” and consult with Victoria Police and federal law enforcement agencies and report back to her “as soon as possible.”

The VCGLR confirmed this week, that more than a year later, it has not completed its investigation.

“The VCGLR continues to assess whether Crown’s due diligence in relation to junket operations was appropriate during the relevant times,” a VCGLR spokeswoman said.

The VCGLR was aware of the other investigations or inquiries underway into Crown, she said, and “continues to carefully monitor these matters to inform any regulatory action which may be required.”

The New South Wales gambling regulator has been revealing damning evidence about how Crown’s lax due diligence resulted in it forgoing business relationships that connected it to Asian Triad gangs, and how failures in anti-money laundering controls opened it up to being used by criminals to launder dirty cash.

The New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority is considering whether Crown should be able to keep the licence for its new Sydney casino, due to open in December.

Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie, who has helped Crown staff become whistleblowers and facilitated damaging leaks about impropriety at the casino, said the Victorian “snap investigation” was a sham designed to hurry the allegations.

He said it was relief the NSW government “has some idea of what its job is.”

“The Victorian government should be paying very close attention to the NSW casino inquiry – much of the evidence is about alleged crimes and corruption that happened in the state of Victoria,” Mr Wilkie said,

“It’s beyond belief that the VCGLR is apparently still being trusted by the Victorian government to investigate Crown, given its breathtaking failures year after year.”

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