NSW inquiry into Crown Resorts grinds to a halt

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
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New South Wales’ high stakes inquiry into Crown Resorts casino operations will be temporarily suspended pending an appeal by the New South Wales Attorney-General over a recent court judgment which found the inquiry did not have the powers of a royal commission.

The Australian reports the commissioner heading the inquiry, former Supreme Court judge, Patricia Bergin, told the hearing on Wednesday that the proceedings, which only began this week, would be put on pause as of Friday.

The inquiry was left scrambling on the eve of its first of five hearings after a landmark New South Wales Supreme Court judgment on February 11 found it did not have the powers of a royal commission.

The decision followed an 11th-hour legal challenge by Melco Resorts, the casino empire owned by Macau gaming tycoon Lawrence Ho, which argued that the inquiry had wildly overstepped its powers by insisting Melco hand over documents in breach of their professional lawyer-client privilege.

Ms Bergin said while the New South Wales Supreme Court decision found the inquiry did not have powers under Section 17 (1) of the state’s Royal Commission Act, “the (NSW) attorney-general contends otherwise.”

An urgent appeal filed by the New South Wales Attorney-General Mark Speakman is now set to be heard by the New South Wales Supreme Court of Appeal on March 9, with Ms Bergin flagging to the inquiry it was likely the court would deliver its decision as early as March 16, at which point the hearing would resume.

First four days proceed but next round of witnesses held

Ms Bergin said while the inquiry had been able to proceed with the first four days of evidence from expert witnesses this week, the next round of witnesses would include employees of Australia’s Crown Resorts, the global casino behemoth, Melco Resorts and Sydney’s Star Casino.

“This segment of the hearing after tomorrow will involve evidence pertinent to the regulation and operation of casinos in this jurisdiction,” Ms Bergin explained.

The February 11 decision was widely regarded as a major setback for the inquiry which had been heralded as an inquisition into Crown’s casino operations, including its alleged “criminal infiltration” by money launderers and high roller junket operators.

Justice Christine Adamson ruled there was a lack of clear language in New South Wales’ Casino Control Act and it could not be interpreted to give the inquiry the power to breach legal privilege which was a fundamental common law right.

The judge went a step further, pointing out that the New South Wales parliament appeared to have left it to the courts to do their “dirty work” in identifying the actual powers of New South Wales gaming inquiries.

Mr Ho and billionaire James Packer, the majority shareholder of Crown Resorts, are both expected to appear as witnesses.

A world expert in global organised crime, Dr John Langdale, told the inquiry on Wednesday that Australia was one of the “top five” targets of extremely wealthy Chinese looking to invest offshore in areas like property.

Dr Langford said extraordinarily sophisticated Chinese organised crime groups serviced a wide range of clients – from wealthy Chinese mainlanders to the mafia in Europe and drug traffickers from Latin America.

He said underground banking was used to clean the “dirty” money, which was thought to account for at least five per cent of the world’s economy.

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