The Crown Resorts probity inquiry has raised the prospect of the casino giant facing criminal charges for dealing with the proceeds of crime after it allowed dirty cash to be laundered through its bank accounts.
In the fourth day of closing submissions to the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry, counsel assisting Scott Aspinall said the James Packer-backed group’s failings to police money laundering left it in an “appalling” position.
“That a subsidiary of Crown may have engaged in criminal acts in respect of the laundering of money is simply astonishing,” Mr Aspinall said.
He said on Monday it did not matter whether money laundering happened at Crown because the company was “ignorant” or “apathetic” to the risks, because either made it unfit to keep the licence for its new Sydney casino, which is set to open next month.
Counsels assisting the inquiry last week argued for Commissioner Patricia Bergin to find Crown unsuitable based on the business partnerships it forged with “junket” high-roller tour operators linked to the criminal underworld, and the failure to protect 19 employees who were arrested in China on gambling crimes in 2016.
ILGA will meet on November 18 to decide whether it should stop Crown from opening its new $2.2 billion casino at Barangaroo next month while the question of its probity is unresolved.
‘In effect [those provisions] mean that at least in Victoria, that if you negligently deal in funds that are the proceeds of crime, that you are guilty of an offence.’Scott Aspinall, counsel assisting Crown probity inquiry
On Monday Mr Aspinall reviewed the evidence about bank accounts Crown opened through two shell companies called, misleadingly, Southbank Investment and Riverbank Investments, and were riddled with incidents of suspected money laundering over a period of six years.
The Age and Sydney Morning Herald first revealed last year that criminals used these accounts to bank drug money, part of a series of reports that led to the ILGA probe being established.
“Warning signs and red flags indicative of money laundering were being waved at Crown from at least January 2014,” Mr Aspinall said “Moreover, senior executives within Crown were aware of these warnings and yet… the accounts continued to operate.”
The inquiry has heard that ANZ Bank raised its concerns in 2014 about suspicious transactions taking place and eventually shut Crown’s accounts over fears it was being used to launder the proceeds of crime.
Crown then moved to the Commonwealth Bank, where its new accounts were used to bank millions of dollars in large cash deposits which were also indicative of money laundering.
Mr Aspinall said that because Crown had decided not to register the two shell companies as “reporting entities” with the financial crimes watchdog Austrac, they would not have the normal protections afforded to regulated companies susceptible to abuse by criminals.
“That means that they are subject, just like any ordinary person, to the full rigour of the criminal law,” he said. “In effect [those provisions] mean that at least in Victoria, that if you negligently deal in funds that are the proceeds of crime, that you are guilty of an offence.”
Mr Aspinall said the “appalling” position Crown now found itself in “seems to be the consequence of nobody within Crown understanding that was the risk that they put those companies in”.
He reserved pointed criticism for Crown’s current chief executive Ken Barton, who was elevated from chief financial officer to the top job in January, and has said he is leading sweeping reforms of culture, governance and regulatory compliance at Crown.
Mr Barton was alerted to ANZ’s concerns in 2014 but instead of dealing with the issue of money laundering internally and raising it with Crown’s board, he tried to convince the bank to keep Crown’s accounts open. Mr Barton told the inquiry he did not believe ANZ had raised “serious issues”.
“That’s Mr Barton’s view but in my submission it’s wrong. And the fact he can’t see that it’s wrong is of grave concern,” Mr Aspinall said. “That’s a cultural problem because in my submission it’s a very serious issue.”
The inquiry is continuing on Monday afternoon. The counsels assisting’s submissions will be followed by lawyers representing Crown and James Packer.
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