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

Australian billionaire James Packer on Friday acknowledged “many oversights” running the casino company he founded, Crown Resorts Ltd (CWN.AX), and failing the licence requirements for one of its resorts by missing four years of board meetings.

Packer quit all corporate roles at the A$7 billion ($5.3 billion) company in 2018, but set its strategy as its executive chairman and top shareholder for more than a decade. Once a fixture of the Australian corporate landscape, his evidence at a commission of inquiry was his first public appearance in a year.

Like similar inquiries into Crown’s resorts in Sydney and Melbourne, the hearing on Friday was about its handling of money-laundering risks in West Coast city Perth, which generates a quarter of its profit.

“Looking back, there are many oversights and things that should have been done differently,” said Packer, 54, via videolink.

Before the inquiries, no Crown directors had expertise preventing money laundering, which was an oversight, he said.

“I did not believe at that point in time that Crown Perth was engaged in money laundering,” he added.

Packer, who still owns 37% of the company, said he left Australia in 2013 and missed board meetings of Crown’s Perth casino from then until 2016, despite being the subsidiary’s chairman. He said he should have resigned or attended.

When the former judge running the inquiry suggested Packer’s non-attendance was inconsistent with Crown’s licence requirements, he said “I accept that”.

The inquiries into Crown began after media reports accused the company of turning a blind eye to organised crime and disregarding the safety of 19 employees arrested in China in 2016 for violating that country’s anti-gambling laws.

The Sydney inquiry, where Packer testified a year earlier, ultimately froze Crown’s gambling licence in Australia’s biggest city. Another probe resulted this week in a supervisor being tasked with overseeing the company’s flagship casino in Melbourne.

Packer has since withdrawn his associates from the Crown board to prevent a perception of interference. The company has also replaced its chairman, CEO and most directors and managers in the past year.

He told the inquiry on Friday the company was once named “employer of the year” by the Western Australia state government, but “I think at some point the culture slipped”.

Asked if he put that down to his absence, Packer replied, “Potentially”.

($1 = 1.3268 Australian dollars)

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