How big is James Packer’s own goal? With the final submissions laid before the Commission of Inquiry into Crown, the inference is clear – the casino group’s biggest liability was its major shareholder Packer.
On Wednesday morning the counsel assisting submitted to the Inquiry’s commissioner that the group was not a “suitable person” to hold the licence to its new $2.2 billion casino at Barangaroo.
Meanwhile, Crown called an emergency board meeting for Wednesday afternoon to discuss the escalating issues facing the casino group.
But here’s the kicker – counsel assisting Adam Bell submitted the “common theme” across both the China arrests and the Melco transaction was the “deleterious impact on the governance of Crown Resorts caused by its dominant shareholder, CPH and ultimately Mr Packer.
He said the impact of that influence put Crown Resorts in breach of its regulatory agreements with the NSW regulatory authority. Further, Bell said the adverse impact of CPH in compromising proper reporting lines of Crown Resorts was a leading factor leading to the China arrests.
“In those instances the adverse impact of CPH and Mr Packer, we submit, was ultimately harmful to the public interest, which is a primary object of the Casino Control Act to protect.”
We appear to be witnessing the unravelling of Crown.
Evidence from several of its key management and board suggests either an ad hoc or cavalier approach to risk management and major problems with anti-money laundering and compliance, including the existence of bank accounts with camouflaged names to facilitate offshore players disguising gambling activities.
Crown’s association with junket operators with links to criminal activity has been widely evidenced during commission hearings.
Regardless of the fact that at various times over the past five years Packer has not been a director of Crown, this shadow has been sufficiently large that it could be characterised as operating as his personal fiefdom.
There has been recognition even by Packer that the regulator may not allow him to remain as a controlling shareholder.
While the commissioner Patricia Bergin will not necessarily follow the advice of counsel assisting it does not augur well for Crown, which will get an opportunity to lodge its submissions in a couple of weeks.
Bell’s submission on Wednesday dealt primarily with the 2016 arrests and who knew what about the impending risks associated with having staff in China, operating out of a clandestine office.
The inquiry heard that Packer supported the ‘VIP working group’ that made the decisions on the strategy and direction of the international business. This group worked outside the normal management grid and as such was responsible for the China arrests.
‘In 2013, quite possibly at Mr Packer’s instigation but certainly with his approval the VIP working group (otherwise referred to as the CHP working group) was established,’ Bell said.
Other aspects of the inquiry such as Crowns associations with junkets operators will be dealt with by others assisting the commission.
The irony for Packer is that his heavy involvement in the minutiae of Crown was clearly an attempt to maximise its profits and its growth. Now he faces the prospect of having to sell all or part of his 36 per cent shareholding in Crown at a time when the chances of the international VIP market returning are slim.
Crown’s share price has fallen by 30 per cent this year and while its new 10 per cent shareholder Blackstone has applied to increase its stake, any bid at this stage would be a low-ball offer.
Packer was the driving force behind the receipt of the Barangaroo licence, which may now be in jeopardy. At the very least, there must now be a large question mark over the planned opening of Barangaroo in five weeks.
Source: Thanks smh.com