Former Crown chairman receives inquiry grilling

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Blackstone’s bid for Crown still has hurdles to face

Crown Resorts’ former chairman has told a New South Wales government inquiry that he doesn’t recall being briefed about $5.6 million in cash found in a Melbourne casino cupboard.

The Guardian reports former media executive and Crown chairman John Alexander was grilled about his role in Crown’s defence of allegations it was involved in money laundering.

Me Alexander, one editor-in-chief of the Herald is a loyal Packer employee, who ran full-page advertisements arguing that reporting in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age was part of a “deceitful campaign.”

The statements in the advertisement are being picked over, line by line, in the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a Sydney casino licence.

The ad rejected allegations that Crown turned a blind eye to money laundering or partnered with junkets with links to organised crime.

At the time that much of the alleged behaviour is said to have taken place, Mr Alexander was both chief executive and chairman of the board, from 2017 to January 2020.

On Friday, Mr Alexander was asked whether he was aware that Austrac, the body responsible for monitoring cash transactions, had raised Crown’s relationship with the Suncity junket with Crown’s compliance officer, Joshua Preston.

Cash called into question 

He was also asked about when he learned that $5.6 million had been found in cash in the Sincity high-roller room.

Mr Alexander said he did not recall being briefed on the matters.

“Given that you didn’t know, are you in any position to answer the accusation that Crown turned a blind eye to money laundering?” the counsel assisting Naomi Sharp SC, asked.

“It would make that proposition more difficult,” Mr Alexander replied.

He was later shown an email from Preston, which provided an update on Suncity and raised the $5.6 million in cash that had been found in a cupboard.

Mr Alexander said he did not recall reading the email or its contents, but he agreed it should have gone to the risk-management committee for discussion.

Mr Alexander was also asked to read on-screen a confidential report by Berkeley Research Group, commissioned by Crown, which detailed findings into its junket partners.

He read a summary on Alvin Chau, the many behind Suncity, the largest junket operator at Crown.

What Berkeley said about Mr Chau was not revealed.

“Could you say he’s a person of good repute based on this report?’ Sharp asked.

“No”, replied Mr Alexander.

And would Crown do business with Suncity in the future?

“I hesitate to pre-empt the new guidelines that Crown is developing but it’s difficult to see how this person would meet them,” he said.

Brown had claimed in the advertisement that it had “robust processes” for vetting its junket partners and defended its relationship with Suncity.

In the wake of the inquiry and the coronavirus pandemic, Crown says it has suspended its business relationships with all junkets.

Last Friday, Mr Alexander agreed that some of the claims in the mid-2019 advertisement were inaccurate.

Asked who had vetted the assertions for accuracy, Mr Alexander said it would have been Barry Felstead, the head of the VIP gaming business, and Mr Preston.

“By asking Mr Felstead and Mr Preston, weren’t you effectively asking them to investigate themselves?” Ms Sharp asked.

Mr Alexander disagreed and then faced questioning over his knowledge of the Riverbank and Southbank accounts, which were operated by Crown to allow patrons to deposit cash for gaming, providing them anonymity.

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