Royal commission hears that Crown was reluctant to implement tighter money laundering controls

By Ethan Anderson Updated
Royal commission hears that Crown was reluctant to implement tighter money laundering controls

Casino operator Crown Resorts pushed back on a bid from the Victorian gambling regulator to implement tighter money laundering controls. reports that Crowns talled and behaved “aggressively” after a push b y the regulator to implement tighter controls, the Victorian royal commission into Crown Resorts has heard.

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation sought the stricter controls following a five-year review of the casino giant in June 2018.

VCGLR licence, management and audit team manager Jason Cremona told a royal commission into Crown Melbourne’s operations the review had revealed an obvious gap in the casino’s internal controls for its high-roller junket operations.

As a result, the casino was advised to do a “robust” review by July 2019 to appropriately address the risks, given junkets were known as highly vulnerable to money laundering and infiltration by organised crime.

Crown was asked to include input from Australian government financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC as part of the review.

However, despite agreeing to all 20 recommendations the regulator made in its review, Crown dragged its feet for 11 months on the call related to strengthening money laundering measures, the royal commission heard.

“There was no evidence Crown was taking any action to address recommendation 17 in line with our expectations,” Mr Cremona told the royal commission.

The measures sought aimed to ensure individual junket players and their gaming activities were more visible.

Regulator tells royal commission that Crown pushed back against tighter controls

Mr Cremona said the regulator was “quite surprised” Crown was asking for more clarity about its recommendation, adding “it was more a challenge as opposed to a clarification”.

An AUSTRAC employee told the regulator that in May 2019, Crown was “pushing back’.

“At that stage, the alarm bells were ringing relatively loudly; they were failing to address the recommendation,” Mr Cremona said.

Following that, Mr Cremona wrote a letter to Crown’s chief legal officer Joshua Preston, advising Crown “may not meet the intended outcomes of recommendation 17”.

“Crown appears reluctant to undertake a review of any relevant internal control statements with input from AUSTRAC,” the letter said.

It sparked anger from Crown, Mr Cremona told a colleague the next day.

Crown executive Michelle Fielding had called him, responding “pretty aggressively” and believed the “tone” of the letter “misrepresented Crown”.

“She said Josh was furious and would most probably call the minister,” Mr Cremona wrote in an email.

The probe heard Crown only began engaging with AUSTRAC about the recommendation to tighten money laundering controls 11 months after it was made, and a month before the deadline.

In the end, Mr Cremona said the regulator accepted Crown had complied with the recommendation, noting further work was required, because it otherwise meant Crown would need to do a further review, causing more delay.

“I had no trust in their want to deliver the outcome we required,” he said.

Under cross examination from Crown’s counsel Michael Borsky, Mr Cremona accepted the VCGLR concluded Crown had met all 20 recommendations.

The hearing, which is deciding if the gaming operator should retain its Melbourne licence, resumes on Thursday before commissioner Ray Finkelstein.

The royal commission was triggered following the publication of the Bergin report, which was initiated by the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, ahead of the opening of Crown Barangaroo in Sydney.

That inquiry deemed Crown unsuitable to hold a casino licence in the state and as such, Crown’s gaming floors in Sydney remain closed. 

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