Crown's fresh troubles as inquiry wraps

Hannah Ryan and Liz Hobday
·3-min read

Crown Resorts has capped off a disastrous week with accusations it failed to hand over important and damning documents to an inquiry, and with a downgrade from a credit ratings agency.

The final day of a NSW inquiry into Crown's suitability to run a new Sydney casino was told the gaming company's long failure to investigate and admit to claims of money laundering was more concerning than the money laundering itself.

Internal emails were only revealed this week that showed an executive had recommended the allegations of money being laundered through its bank accounts be fully investigated, but that Crown had declined to take up the recommendation.

Previously, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry had understood Crown had simply never taken up the opportunity to look into the accounts after allegations were aired in the press.

"What it says is that this company is unable to govern itself," counsel assisting the inquiry, Scott Aspinall, said on Friday.

"It cannot see the obviousness of money laundering when it is put before it, and it will not concede and co-operate with a regulator to agree to that proposition when it is plain as a pikestaff that money laundering had occurred in those accounts."

Commissioner Patricia Bergin told Crown's barrister, Neil Young QC, that the failure to hand over documents meant the inquiry had been "led to believe things that were not accurate".

"If it is merely an oversight, and one would hope beyond hope that it is, that's one thing," Ms Bergin said.

"If it is in fact something that was more than an oversight, then that will need to be investigated."

The controversy is the latest setback in a disastrous week for Crown, which saw the regulator dash its hopes of opening a new $2.2 billion VIP casino at Barangaroo next month.

ILGA announced its decision to withhold regulatory approval for the casino, after Crown presented auditor reports late on Tuesday evening showing money laundering likely occurred in its Southbank and Riverbank bank accounts.

The decision led ratings agency Moody's to downgrade Crown's credit rating and put it on a negative watch.

The inquiry has sat since January. The Crown directors who were grilled in recent months all said they did not look into the bank accounts after the money laundering allegations appeared in the press in August 2019.

But the new evidence produced by Crown, including a statement from CEO Ken Barton, reveals executive Louise Lane looked through the accounts within hours of the media reports being published

According to Mr Barton's statement, Ms Lane's recommendation that Crown engage an external firm to examine the accounts was rebuffed because of advice from law firm Minter Ellison that any report would not be covered by legal privilege and might have to be produced to the ILGA inquiry.

Ms Lane's emails were not handed over to the inquiry when they should have been, Mr Aspinall said.

Ms Bergin has ordered Minter Ellison to produce a statement explaining what happened by next week.

While Mr Aspinall had previously argued Crown turned a blind eye to money laundering, the new evidence suggested something worse, he said on Friday.

"It's to turn open eyes to a problem and then to turn your eyes away from the problem afraid of what you might find if you carry out the investigation," he said.

Ms Bergin will now retire to produce a report by February 2021, which will make recommendations about Crown's fitness to run the casino.