Australian billionaire Packer admits to ‘many oversights’ at Crown’s governance

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australian casino billionaire James Packer acknowledged “many oversights” in the corporate governance of the company he founded, Crown Resorts Ltd (CWN.AX), as he fronted a powerful inquiry on Monday into its second-largest resort.

Packer quit all corporate roles at the A$7 billion company in 2018, but still owns 37% of its shares. After damaging inquiries into Crown’s other resorts in Sydney and Melbourne, Packer was testifying at a Royal Commission into handling of money-laundering risks at its casino in the West Coast city of Perth.

The Sydney inquiry, where Packer made his last public appearance when he testified a year ago, ultimately froze Crown’s gambling licence there, while the Melbourne probe resulted this week in the company operating under supervision for two years.

“Looking back, there are many oversights and things that should have been done differently,” Packer said on Friday, testifying via videolink.

Packer, 54, said that before the inquiries began no Crown directors had direct expertise preventing money laundering, but “I did not believe at that point in time that Crown Perth was engaged in money laundering”.

He acknowledged that it was an oversight to have no person on the Crown board with anti-money laundering expertise.

Inquiries into Crown’s three casinos began after media reports accused the company of turning a blind eye to organised crime, including dealing with tour operators with links to criminal organisations, and disregarding the safety of 19 employees arrested in China in 2016 for violating that country’s anti-gambling laws.

After the Sydney inquiry found that Packer had an undue influence over the company’s board despite holding no official role, he withdrew his associates from its board earlier this year. Amid the turbulence of the inquiries and allegations, Crown has also replaced its chairman, CEO and most directors and managers in the past year.

Earlier on Friday, the company said it settled a shareholder class action accusing it of failing to disclose risks of doing business in China.