The NSW government will release the findings of its long-running probe into Crown Resorts under parliamentary privilege so it can defend itself against potential defamation claims launched by the casino giant’s executives.
The precaution foreshadows potentially explosive findings in former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin’s 800-page report into Crown’s suitability to keep the licence for its new $2.2 billion Barangaroo casino, which will be released on Tuesday afternoon following an 18-month investigation.
The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority said on Monday that Commissioner Bergin’s report will be tabled in State Parliament on Tuesday afternoon and then made available to the public via the Parliament website.
This method of publishing the highly anticipated report was not legislatively necessary, but the government has taken that path to shield itself from future defamation action by anyone named in the report, according to senior government sources.
A spokesman for the Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello, who is responsible for gaming regulation, declined to comment.
The inquiry – which had the same powers as a royal commission and was launched in response to a series of reports by this masthead – last year heard damning evidence of its failure to prevent money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos; how it went into business with high-roller tour operators linked to powerful organised crime syndicates, and the risks it took doing business in China before 19 staff were arrested there in 2016.
The government’s concerns about defamation proceedings suggest the final report could be highly critical of current and former executives at Crown, with the potential of making adverse findings against them.
Counsel assisting the inquiry recommended that NSW should reconsider whether Crown’s biggest shareholder, the reclusive billionaire James Packer, should remain approved as a “close associate” of Crown’s Sydney casino, after it was revealed through the inquiry he sent a threatening email to a Melbourne businessman after a deal to privatise Crown fell over.
Being a “close associate” requires someone to be a person of “good repute” and if withdrawn could force Mr Packer to sell down his 36 per cent stake in the company. Mr Packer’s lawyers told the inquiry the email was a result of his bipolar disorder, for which he was now medicated.
Counsel assisting also accused Crown chief executive Ken Barton of deliberately misleading Crown’s minority shareholders at its 2019 annual meeting by hiding from them details of a secret information sharing deal with Mr Packer.
Commissioner Bergin’s recommendations on Crown’s licence will not necessarily be accepted and implemented by liquor and gaming authority’s board, which will meet this month to consider her report.
Crown was set to open the gaming floors of its $2.2 billion resort at Barangaroo in late December but the authority blocked it from commencing gaming operations after the group admitted to the inquiry that criminals probably laundered money at its Melbourne and Perth casinos.
Crown has already opened the hotel, restaurants and bars at its new tower.
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