Crown calls for trading halt

Crown Resorts has requested the Australian Stock Exchange halt trading in its shares ahead of a public announcement about the future of its $2.2 billion Sydney casino.

The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority will announce its decision regarding the opening date of the Sydney casino at 3:30pm on Wednesday.

Crown had planned to open the flagship Barangaroo facility next month, but the future of the casino hangs in the balance as a long-running ILGA inquiry continues to hear damning arguments and evidence about Crown’s fitness to run the new venue.

Crown said it had asked for the trading halt because it had received a letter from ILGA about the opening date of Crown Sydney. 

“Unless ASX decides otherwise, the securities will remain in trading halt until the earlier of the commencement of normal trading on Friday, 20 November 2020 or when the announcement is released to the market,” the Crown statement said.

The inquiry commissioner Patricia Bergin will make recommendations in February about whether Crown is suitable to run the casino.

Crown’s lawyers made a bombshell admission to the inquiry on Wednesday morning that money was likely laundered through its bank accounts, but insist the company is still fit to run the casino. 

Crown’s barrister Robert Craig SC admitted in closing submissions that it was more likely than not that two of the company’s bank accounts had been used for money laundering, pointing to two expert reports the company commissioned. 

The Riverbank and Southbank accounts have been a key focus of the inquiry after media reports alleged they were used to launder dirty cash. 

Banks repeatedly closed the accounts because of money laundering fears, but those fears were not escalated to the board.

Ms Bergin expressed frustration at Crown for serving the expert reports at 11pm on Tuesday, saying it was a problem they arrived “in the middle of the night” and with no notice, and after counsel assisting the inquiry had questioned multiple witnesses about the accounts.

Mr Craig admitted the company should have reviewed the bank accounts sooner.

Crown also admitted to shortcomings and mistakes in its anti-money laundering processes, but vowed it was cleaning up its act with a series of reforms, only some of which have come before its board.

Mr Craig advised Ms Bergin not to get “bogged down” in the question of whether money laundering actually occurred, saying it was a distraction from the “fundamental point” that large cash transactions should be deterred because they give rise to serious risks, and that Crown’s new policies were directed to those risks.

Ms Bergin replied that the inquiry’s terms of references demanded she consider whether money laundering happened.

Earlier on Wednesday, Crown counsel Neil Young QC denied that billionaire James Packer was a de facto director of Crown once he left the board.

“He was receiving some information and expressing some views, but that is a long way short of making actual operative decisions,” Mr Young said.

Mr Young argued that Crown could not be blamed for any flaws with an agreement by Mr Packer’s privacy company to sell 19.99 per cent of its shares to Hong Kong firm Melco Resorts in May 2019.

The company did not know about the transaction and had no power to stop it, he said.

He vowed the relationship between Crown and its major shareholder, Mr Packer’s private vehicle, would be “stock standard” from now on, influencing the company only through its appointed directors.

Crown on Tuesday announced it would stop dealing with all junket operators, subject to consultation with gaming regulators in Victoria, Western Australia and NSW.

Counsel assisting the inquiry has recommended findings that Crown and Mr Packer are not presently fit to be associated with the new casino.

The inquiry continues.

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