Crown Resorts chief executive Ken Barton was sending almost daily updates on the casino group’s financial performance to major shareholder James Packer but hid this fact from other shareholders when asked about it at last year’s annual general meeting.
Mr Barton rejected the suggestion, raised in a NSW government inquiry on Wednesday, that he deliberately mislead the company’s investors, but conceded he should have told them the truth about what confidential information he was sending Mr Packer.
The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry, which is considering whether Crown should keep the licence for its new Sydney casino, heard on Wednesday that Mr Packer demanded updated financial forecasts from Mr Barton in February 2019, three months before he agreed to sell 20 per cent of Crown to Hong Kong group Melco for $1.8 billion.
Mr Packer, who owned 46 per cent of the company at the time, responded to Mr Barton’s 2019 full financial year forecast that he and other executives had their “heads in the sand”, that he was “sick of never meeting the plans” and warned them to “make sure, for you own sake, we achieve the financial year 2020 plan”.
The inquiry was played a recording of Crown’s October 2019 AGM, in which shareholder activist Stephen Mayne asked the group’s independent directors to explain what information Crown shared with Mr Packer, including if he was “selectively briefed” or received any “special treatment”.
Mr Barton, then Crown’s chief financial officer, answered on their behalf by explaining that Crown shared information with Mr Packer’s private company, Consolidated Press Holding (CPH), in order for it to provide some services to the group under a long disclosed agreement.
However, he did not tell the meeting Mr Packer was allowed to receive company information under that agreement, nor did he mention that a separate “controlling shareholder protocol” was put in place for sharing information with Mr Packer in 2018, after he resigned as a Crown and CPH director.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Adam Bell put to Mr Barton, who took over as chief executive in January this year, that he gave a “deliberately misleading response to the shareholders”.
Mr Barton rejected this, saying he wanted to give shareholders “context” of the broader relationship between Crown, Mr Packer and CPH.
“So couldn’t you just tell him in truth: ‘I’m briefing Mr Packer on a daily basis’?” Commissioner Patricia Bergin asked.
Mr Barton agree that would have been “a more complete answer”.
“It would have been a true one, wouldn’t it?” an exasperated Commissioner Bergin asked.
“It would have been the true answer, yes, Commissioner,” Mr Barton said.
Mr Barton said that that Mr Mayne could have asked a follow-up question, given his answer did not address his original query. “But in hindsight, I could have easily answered the question to say that Mr Packer also gets information, he said.
The NSW government inquiry is considering whether Crown is a suitable company to hold the licence for its new casino set to open at Sydney’s Barangaroo in December.
The inquiry was sparked by revelations by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes that Crown went into business with “junket” tour operators linked to powerful Asian crime syndicates.
The inquiry’s public hearings continue on Wednesday afternoon.
Source: Thanks smh.com