James Packer admits Crown junkets have the potential to be infiltrated by organised crime – Thebritishjournal Reports

Under lengthy questioning James Packer has admitted he has “long been on clear notice of the links” between organisers of gambling junkets at Crown Resorts’ casinos and organised crime, but that he personally did nothing to set risk guidelines for the high-roller operation while executive chairman of the company.

Giving evidence to an inquiry into Crown on Thursday, Packer also said he would not go back on to the board of the gambling empire and expected his shareholding in the company to be capped.

The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry, which is looking into whether Crown and its associates, including Packer, should be allowed to operate a casino in Sydney, also heard details of his close involvement with the junket business, which continued after he stepped down from the board of the company in late 2015.

It was called last year by the New South Wales government after the Nine media group published allegations of wrongdoing, including money laundering at Crown’s casinos and links between junket operators, who bring in high-roller gamblers, and organised crime groups.

Packer was appearing for a third and final day before the inquiry after giving evidence that has included admitting to making “shameful” threats against a businessman in 2015.

Under questioning from counsel assisting the inquiry, Naomi Sharp SC, Packer initially refused to accept that he had “long been on clear notice of the links between junket operators and organised crime”.

“Not the junket operators that Crown Australia was dealing with,” Packer told the inquiry.

But Packer conceded the point after Sharp reminded him of an episode of ABC TV’s flagship current affairs show, Four Corners, broadcast in 2014 that alleged links between six junket operators that brought gamblers to Crown and organised crime.

“Yes, that’s fair,” he said.

He said that while executive chairman of Crown he was aware of the due diligence work the company did on junket operators “only at the highest level”.

“I was assured that they were junkets of good repute,” he said.

He agreed with Sharp’s suggestion that it was the board’s responsibility to set guidelines for the risk Crown was willing to take in the junket operator business, but he never turned his mind to the topic.

“I saw that as Mr [Rowen] Craigie’s job,” he said, referring to Crown’s chief executive at the time.

Emails tendered to the inquiry show the Crown executive Ishan Ratnam kept Packer up to date on what was going on in the international VIP business, including developments with junket operators.

This included updates given in May and July 2017, more than a year after Packer had stepped down from the Crown board.

The emails show Ratnam told Packer of his concerns that a crackdown by mainland Chinese authorities on capital leaving the country was making the high-roller business more difficult.

Ratnam sent Packer an email on 31 August 2015 “telling you ‘transferring money out of China difficult’”, Sharp said.

The inquiry heard that in emails sent in August 2017, Ratnam told Packer rebuilding the VIP business at Crown’s London casino, Aspinalls, would be very challenging because of “credit and wealth checks” needed under anti-money laundering and counter-terror finance rules.

“I can recall that the Aspinalls business was getting tougher and tougher,” Packer told the inquiry.

Asked what Ratnam meant by a reference in one email to “too many third-party bank payments not having proof of wealth”, Packer said: “I believe it had to do with AML.”

Packer also met with junket operators, although he said he did this “rarely”. “I do not and never had intimate relations with junket operators or junkets, and I had nothing to do with management of those junkets,” Packer said.

In 2015 in Macau Packer met with Alvin Chau, the head of the biggest junket operator in the Chinese territory.

Suncity, which operated a high-roller room at Crown’s Melbourne casino, was one of the junket operators that the 2014 Four Corners episode alleged had links to organised crime.

In August last year, Nine newspapers reported Chau had been banned from Australia amid an investigation into Suncity. At the time, Chau said he was “not subject to any Australian investigation”.

Packer said that at around the same time as he met with Chau, he also met with another junket operator, Song Zezhai.

“The purpose of the meeting was for me to thank Mr Song for his business,” Packer said.

However, he denied that he set the company’s VIP strategy between 2012 and 2015. He was chairman of the company until August 2015 and resigned from the board in December that year.

Sharp asked: “Did you contribute to that strategy?”

“Marginally,” Packer said.

He agreed with the inquiry commissioner, former NSW supreme court judge Patricia Bergin, that “some very serious changes have to be made”.

“I won’t be going on the board again,” he said.

“I think the board will be more independent than it was in the past.

“I think that caps on shareholders may be something that you’ll think about.”

He said the Crown board “has a lot to think about in terms of who does what job”.

“I think that this has been a terribly painful and terribly shocking experience for the board, as it has been for me.”

The inquiry continues.

James Packer admits Crown junkets have the potential to be infiltrated by organised crime The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Guardian.

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