WA amps up pressure on Crown with another Royal Commission

WA amps up pressure on Crown with another Royal Commission

Crown Resorts (ASX: CWN) now faces yet another Royal Commission over allegations of junkets and facilitating money laundering, this time with the Western Australian Government announcing an inquiry into the suitability of the casino licence for Crown Perth in Burswood.

The move comes within two weeks of Victoria announcing a Royal Commission into the company in response to the explosive Bergin Report which put plans for its currently "unsuitable" Sydney casino opening on hold.

The Western Australian Royal Commission will have three commissioners - Lindy Jenkins, Colin Murphy and Neville Owen, with the latter as chair.

Both Jenkins and Owen are former Supreme Court justices, while Murphy was a previous Auditor General.

The government is aiming to have a final report ready by 14 November, following expected interim findings in June.

"The Royal Commission will provide the next State Government with a thorough and independent examination of the suitability of Crown Perth to hold a casino licence following the Bergin Inquiry's findings of suspected money laundering and junkets linked to organised crime," WA Racing and Gaming Minister Paul Papalia said.

"The Commission will also closely examine the State's current regulatory framework, the functions of the Gaming and Wagering Commission and provide recommendations for enhancing future regulatory capabilities and effectiveness."

"The Gaming and Wagering Commission has already directed Crown to no longer hold junkets and to obtain the Commission's approval to establish gaming bank accounts to ensure the activities highlighted in the Bergin Inquiry cannot occur."

Papalia also highlighted WA regulators have formed working groups with their counterparts in the eastern states to ensure consistency for any future regulatory reform. 

In a response published on the ASX, Crown said it would fully cooperate in relation to the WA Royal Commission.

"The WA Royal Commission will provide an opportunity for Crown to detail the reforms and changes to our business to deliver the highest standards of governance and compliance, and an organisational culture that meets community expectations," Crown Resorts executive chairman Helen Coonan said.

Last month the state's GWC recommended an independent inquiry into issues raised about Crown's Perth operations in the Bergin Inquiry.

The Bergin Report followed media allegations of facilitating money laundering at Crown's Melbourne and Perth casinos through shell companies Riverbank and Southbank respectively, whose bank accounts were closed in 2019.

"It has been shown beyond any doubt, that it takes no expertise beyond the basic understanding of the indicia of money laundering described elsewhere in the Report, to identify rampant structuring, a core indicium, through the Southbank and Riverbank accounts, the proceeds of which were then swept into the Melbourne and Perth Casino accounts," the Honourable Patricia Bergin SC wrote.

The matter of alleged junkets was also addressed in the report in relation to both Perth and Melbourne, but the GWC believes no such events have taken place since March last year.

"The last junket from mainland China to Crown Perth was in November 2016, the last from Hong Kong was August 2019 and the last from Macau was March 2020," the GWC said.

"The GWC has confidence that in light of international borders closing due to COVID-19 there were no junkets taking place at Crown Perth from March 2020.

"At the December 2020 GWC meeting, the Commissioners noted Crown's suspension of junket operations and the closure of the Riverbank account."

The Bergin Report triggered an overhaul of Crown Resorts' board including the departure of its CEO Ken Barton.

As a result the Crown board of directors has dwindled to just four people - Coonan, John Horvath, Jane Halton and Antonia Korsanos, along with a small senior management team also comprising Coonan as well as Alan McGregor and Todd Nisbet.

Last month Western Australia's chief casino officer Michael Connolly stood aside due to his social relationship with staff from the legal and compliance team at Crown Perth, and has been replaced by Mark Beecroft.

However, GWC emphasised that in an October meeting Connolly had made a formal declaration of an interest due to these personal connections.

"In light of that declaration, the Chair of the GWC advised the Public Sector Commissioner, as the appropriate authority to deal with matters relating to public sector employees of the outcome of the due diligence inquiry that was undertaken by a suitably qualified person under the Casino Control Act 1984," the commission said on 16 February.

"At the November 2020 GWC meeting, a decision was taken to commission an independent performance audit by Ernst and Young into the oversight GWC has undertaken during the period of the Bergin Inquiry. That audit is due to be finalised by the end of February 2021.

"In consideration that there should be no perception of a conflict of interest, Mr Connolly volunteered to step aside from his role as chief casino officer effective immediately."

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