Finance Finance News James Packer admits WA casino ‘oversights’

James Packer admits WA casino ‘oversights’

james packer
Former Crown director James Packer has given evidence to the Perth Casino Royal Commission. Photo: AAP
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Billionaire James Packer has admitted there were “many oversights” during his time overseeing Crown’s Perth casino operations and he should have considered resigning years earlier.

Mr Packer made the admission on Friday while appearing via video link before a West Australian royal commission examining Crown’s suitability to retain its Perth casino licence.

A former Crown Resorts director, and still the company’s major shareholder, Mr Packer also chaired Burswood Limited – a subsidiary of Crown primarily responsible for the running of the Perth casino – between 2004 and 2016.

The inquiry heard the Burswood board reported to that of Crown Resorts and the majority of its directors were also Crown executives.

Mr Packer accepted the arrangement effectively left Crown overseeing itself and in hindsight there should have been a majority of independent directors on the Burswood board.

He also admitted he had not attended any Burswood Ltd board meetings during a three-year period from mid-2013, when he moved overseas, until 2016 when he finally resigned. He continued to attend Crown meetings during that time.

“There is no doubt I should have attended or resigned … I did neither,” he said.

Earlier this year, the NSW Bergin report found Crown had “enabled or facilitated” money laundering at its Perth casino through an account linked to a shell company, Riverbank Investments.

ANZ raised concerns in 2014 about Riverbank and another subsidiary, Southbank, and eventually shut down their accounts with the bank.

Mr Packer said he had not been made aware of the closures but accepted it would have been a “red flag”.

He rejected suggestions Crown’s push to attract more international business had created a greater risk of the Perth casino being used to facilitate money laundering.

“It is completely inconsistent to spend a billion dollars developing Crown Perth and doing that so you can put yourself in a position where you’re more at risk from illegal elements,” he said.

Counsel assisting the commission Patricia Cahill SC asked Mr Packer whether there had been anyone appointed to the board during his time as chair who had anti-money laundering or financial crime risk experience.

“I don’t believe there was,” he replied.

“Looking back there are many oversights, things that should have been done differently. I did not believe at that point in time that Crown Perth was engaged in money laundering.”

Mr Packer’s rare public appearance from an undisclosed location came days after Crown was castigated by a Victorian inquiry for “illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative” behaviour.

But the royal commission, headed by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein QC, stopped short of recommending Crown should lose its Melbourne casino licence.

Instead, it was recommended Crown continue operating under the oversight of a special manager for two years while it undertakes comprehensive reforms.

The WA inquiry is due to deliver its final report in March 2022.

It has heard the state’s Gaming and Wagering Commission opted not to investigate allegations of money laundering against Crown after the company’s “persuasive” former legal boss told them it was a media beat-up.

Perth investment banker John Poynton replaced Mr Packer on Crown’s board in 2018 as a nominee of the billionaire’s company Consolidated Press Holdings.

The royal commission has heard Mr Poynton had signed a consultancy agreement with CPH for which he received a $50,000 annual fee. It included a clause that he disclose confidential information relating to Crown Resorts “on demand”.

Mr Packer said he had not been aware of that clause and didn’t know why it had been included.

He also rejected testimony from former executive chair Helen Coonan that Crown’s management had been “beholden” to CPH.

“I would disagree with that,” he said.

Mr Poynton has testified he never provided confidential information to Mr Packer or CPH. He resigned in February as a non-executive Crown director and chair of Burswood Limited.