The head of an inquiry assessing Crown Resorts Ltd.’s suitability to operate a casino in Sydney criticized the state of the Australian company’s anti-money laundering systems and said a lack of transparency exposed by the probe was a “debacle.”
The inquiry was set up last year after media reports that criminal gangs laundered money at Crown’s casinos, and the company used junket operators with links to drug traffickers. Retired Supreme Court Judge Patricia Bergin, overseeing the probe, must consider whether Crown is worthy of keeping its license for a planned Sydney resort, due to open by the end of the year.
Crown Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Barton, who gave evidence for much of Wednesday, said the company hadn’t yet fully reviewed the specific accounts that were allegedly used by money launderers. Barton, Crown’s chief financial officer before he became CEO this year, also said that for several years after 2014 he didn’t know a major junket operator had a cash desk at Crown’s flagship Melbourne casino. Barton said such an arrangement “certainly” posed a money-laundering risk.
“There has to be some more transparency because this, in effect, has really reached the debacle level,” Bergin said Wednesday. “At the moment it is just extraordinarily troubling.”
Ultimately, Bergin will determine if Crown should keep its license, or make governance changes, in order to run a AUD2.2 billion ($1.5 billion) Sydney harborside gaming development. Crown’s billionaire shareholder James Packer, who has championed the project for almost a decade, is due to give evidence next week.
On Wednesday, Bergin questioned how any regulator could know what was happening at Crown when Barton himself was unaware of the details. “This is what is troubling me,” she said.
The inquiry also heard that Barton, replying to a question from a shareholder at Crown’s 2019 annual meeting, withheld details of his own almost daily communications about Crown’s financial performance with Packer, which were permitted under a controlling shareholder protocol.
“So couldn’t you just say to him, in truth, ‘Yes, of course, I’m briefing Mr Packer on a daily basis,’” Bergin said to Barton at the hearing. Barton agreed that such a response would have been “a true answer.”
Crown has called last year’s media reports part of a “deceitful campaign” that sought to damage its reputation. Crown has said it will work with regulators on any recommendations. Angus Whitley, Bloomberg