NSW watchdog to probe Packer's sale of Crown shares

NSW watchdog to probe Packer's sale of Crown shares

On 31 May, James Packer's CPH Crown Holdings sold $1.76 billion worth of shares in Crown Resorts (ASX: CWN) to Hong Kong-based casino operator Melco Resorts, a company headed by Packer's former business partner Lawrence Ho.

Lawrence Ho is the son of Macau's most influential casino magnate Stanley Ho, who held a government-granted monopoly on the Macau gambling industry for decades and allegedly had ties to the Kung Lok triad organised crime syndicate based in Canada.

Up until 28 June this year, Lawrence Ho was a director of Lanceford Company Limited.

Both Ho junior and Lanceford are reportedly on a list of Stanley Ho's associates that are banned from doing business with Crown, under certain anti-crime licensing conditions of the Barangaroo Crown property which is currently under construction in Sydney.

The substantial transaction between Packer and Ho is now being scrutinised by the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority (the Authority), as it seeks to discover any contraventions of the Casino Control Act which may have occurred.

"The Authority is to have regard to the primary objects of the Act in exercising its functions," says the watchdog.

"This includes ensuring that the management and operation of a casino remain free from criminal influence or exploitation, that gaming in a casino is conducted honestly and controlling the potential of a casino to cause harm to the public interest and to individuals and families."

Reportedly, half of Packer's shares already changed hands in June, with the remainder to be transferred to Ho's company before the end of September.

The $1.76 billion amounts to a 20 per cent stake in Crown Resorts.

The NSW-based inquiry will be conducted by Patricia Bergin SC and take evidence in public. Naomi Sharp SC and Scott Aspinall will assist the inquiry as counsel.

Private hearings may be conducted to receive sensitive information as well as confidential evidence from law enforcement.

The Authority has revealed that various matters raised in media reports published by the Nine network, Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age will also be vetted.

Crown has confirmed it will "fully co-operate" in relation to the inquiry.

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