With Crown Resorts firmly in the gun for its governance failings that allowed crime networks to launder millions through its casinos, the fitness of its directors is under intense scrutiny at a NSW inquiry. Enter Andrew Demetriou, the former AFL boss and chairman of Crown Melbourne, whose woeful performance in the witness box could spell the end of his corporate career.
Who is he?
Andrew Demetriou is a quintessential “Mr Melbourne” in more ways than one.
The son of Greek Cypriot parents done good; growing up in a flat behind the family’s fish and chip shop in Pascoe Vale South and now strolling the streets of Toorak. A graduate of La Trobe University who briefly taught at Trinity Grammar before deciding there was more money in being a dentures entrepreneur. A low-key but handy player for North Melbourne who became head of the players’ union and then the big boss of the AFL.
It was as boss of the AFL between 2003 and 2014 that Demetriou shot to prominence. There he expanded the league from 16 teams to 18, brokered new TV rights deals and drastically increased the size of AFL HQ and its intervention in the affairs of clubs.
But not all, or even many, were fans. Legendary Essendon and Greater Western Sydney coach Kevin Sheedy famously called Demetriou “Vlad” for his ruthless, no-prisoners leadership style.
What does he do these days?
After leaving the AFL in 2014, Demetriou has sought to parlay his experience at the AFL into a corporate career. But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing.
His biggest ticket to the storied halls of Melbourne’s company directors’ club has been Crown Resorts, which he joined as an independent director in 2015, a year after leaving the AFL. But Crown has been hit hard by reporting from The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes of its issues with junket operators and money-laundering controls.
Also in 2015, Demetriou joined the advisory board of ASX hopeful Acquire Learning, a vocational education broker that sold courses to job seekers and was co-founded by his nephew, Tim Demetriou.
That all ended in tears when Acquire collapsed into administration in 2017 (and later into liquidation) amid allegations it acted unconscionably towards students.
Liquidators quizzed “Uncle Andy”, as he was known at Acquire, about being a shadow director during public examinations in 2019, something he denies. This year those liquidators sued Demetriou and his family trust for allegedly unfair payments received ahead of Acquire’s collapse. He said this week at the Crown Inquiry he was in settlement discussions. He agreed that he had not told the NSW casino regulator about this legal matter, as required under the law.
What did he do this week?
While Acquire had become the millstone around Demetriou’s neck, it will be his performance in the witness box at the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Regulator’s inquiry into Crown that could end his corporate career.
The inquiry caught Demetriou using notes while giving evidence – something you can’t do without the permission of the court/inquiry and your lawyer. Demetriou had neither.
His cache of material included reports, emails and handwritten notes (penned in capital letters) on the definition of good corporate culture and an independent director, something he should have known by heart.
With no one knowing he had these prompts, on Monday Demetriou looked every bit the professional director as he defended Crown Resorts’ woeful handling of the scandal in China, his independence from James Packer and his suitability as a director.
That facade fell away when he was caught reading aloud the definition of an independent director. The notes were quickly removed from his sight, but without them he struggled.
Demetriou faced the legal equivalent of blood sport the next day, when counsel assisting the inquiry Scott Aspinall took him through his answers and asked for every instance where he had used notes.
He adamantly testified that he only used the notes once (when he was caught red-handed), even after being taken to two moments in the replay which appeared to show him looking down, his eyes moving back and forth. “I was looking at the table,” he said.
Both Aspinall and Commissioner Patricia Bergin’s faces were etched with a type of dead-eyed disappointment that Melbourne Football Club fans know all too well. Bergin summed it up when she put her head in her hands and exclaimed: “Oh Mr Demetriou, why did you do it?”
Why is this important?
There are no formal requirements to become director of a top 100 ASX-listed company. But there’s an expectation that directors have a deep understanding of corporate governance, or at least know the definition of an independent director. Demetriou’s evidence raises many questions about his grip on both.
Beyond that, the inquiry challenged Demetriou’s independence after it produced a fawning email from him to Packer that included the line: “I remain committed to serving the best interests of Crown and, most importantly, you.”
Other evidence he gave showed a cavalier attitude to his responsibilities as director of a casino company facing serious allegations about money laundering and its relationship with junket operators used by Chinese criminals.
One of the questions the inquiry is testing is whether the Crown board and its executives are fit and proper people to be in such important positions.
There were no questions about Demetriou’s properness: he has never been charged or formally accused of breaching his director duties or acting improperly.
But the inquiry is expected to question his fitness, given his inability to answer some of the most basic questions about corporate responsibility and concerns about his truthfulness under oath.
Source: Thanks smh.com