Crown Resorts executives will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief as almost two years under the white-hot spotlight of three separate investigations into its money laundering scandal comes to a close.
The final scheduled witness for the Crown Perth royal commission testified on Wednesday, with group chief compliance and financial crime officer Steven Blackburn taking the stand.
Mr Blackburn commenced the role on February 24 and immediately began reviewing the casino giant’s then anti-financial crime and regulatory compliance programs.
He delivered a report to the board detailing his improvement plans in May, telling the commission that when he wrote it, he believed Crown “in aggregate had a compliant program that was effective in managing financial crime risk”.
“However, there were opportunities for considerable enhancements across all elements of the ecosystem,” he conceded.
Mr Blackburn sighed deeply when pressed further by counsel assisting Patricia Cahill, saying: “Crown in most ways was effectively managing financial crime risk – not entirely – and that’s why enhancements were required”.
The commission – comprising former Supreme Court judges Neville Owen and Lindy Jenkins, and former auditor general Colin Murphy – will next sit in late January to hear closing submissions, expected to last three days, with the final report slated for March 4.
They have previously said that schedule gives them sufficient time to digest the findings of the Victorian royal commission, which were handed down last month and were even more scathing than those of last year’s NSW inquiry, which sparked the West Australian and Victorian probes.
Commissioner Raymond Finkelstein said he had “somewhat reluctantly” decided against recommending the Victorian government strip Crown Melbourne of its gaming licence, despite finding it not suitable to continue to hold one.
It had engaged in “disgraceful … variously illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative” conduct for many years, Commissioner Finkelstein said, but the company was instead placed on two years’ “probation” when it must prove it has redeemed itself.
Crown’s new $2.2bn Sydney venue was denied a gaming licence after the NSW inquiry findings were handed down, but its bars, restaurants and the like have been operating since the not-so grand opening in December, notwithstanding lockdowns.
The Patricia Bergin-led inquiry labelled the influence of former chairman James Packer “disastrous”, as he was the driving force to secure more of the Chinese high-roller junkets at the centre of the scandal.
As a result of the Victorian royal commission, the reclusive billionaire must slash his stake in Crown through private investment vehicle Consolidated Press Holdings from 37 per cent to less than 5 per cent, but the deadline for that is not yet clear.
Mr Packer’s testimony at the Perth probe was explosive.
He admitted he did not attend a single board meeting of Crown Perth’s Burswood Ltd between 2013 to 2016 – despite being its chair and as criminal syndicates infiltrated its VIP gaming salons – after he moved overseas.
Mr Packer admitted he “should have attended or resigned”.
Crown, which gutted its board in the wake of the scandal, still faces Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) investigations into its Perth and Melbourne casinos.
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