SYDNEY, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Australian casino giant Crown
Resorts Ltd was unsuitable to hold a casino licence in
the country's biggest state, and the influence of its major
shareholder James Packer led to a mass arrest of staff in China,
an inquiry heard on Wednesday.
The assertions came in the closing statement from the lawyer
running an inquiry into whether Crown should be allowed to
operate a 75-floor casino tower on the Sydney waterfront that it
has spent A$2.2 billion ($1.6 billion) building and plans to
open next month.
Though the remarks do not amount to formal recommendations,
they raise the prospect that the inquiry will not go in Crown's
favour. The retired judge overseeing it must present a final
report with recommendations by February, and may strip the
company of its casino licence or impose tough conditions on it.
The inquiry was called by the casino regulator of New South
Wales state after 2019 media reports accused Crown of dealing
with gambling tour - or "junket" - operators with links to
organised crime to bring Chinese high rollers to its current
flagship asset in Melbourne.
Over months of hearings, the inquiry has heard allegations
that Crown encouraged staff to remain working in China, where
gambling is illegal, despite warnings from Beijing that it was
cracking down on foreign casino agents. In 2016, 16 Crown staff
were jailed in China for breaching anti-gambling laws.
"The evidence ... demonstrates that the licensee is not a
suitable person to continue to give effect to the licence," the
lawyer running the hearings, Adam Bell, told the inquiry.
Crown's governance was negatively affected by the dominance
Packer's private investment vehicle had over the company, which
contributed to the China arrests and was "ultimately harmful to
the public interest", Bell said.
As the inquiry has progressed, Crown has said it is taking
steps to improve corporate governance like ending an
information-sharing agreement with Packer and suspending
relationships with junket operators.
Packer, who owns 36% of the company, previously told the
inquiry he expected to be told to sell down his stake, and
agreed its corporate governance was "dysfunctional".
The inquiry has heard Packer received frequent trading
updates from Crown executives, unbeknownst to other shareholders
and despite holding no formal role at the company, while
attempting to orchestrate several takeovers which never
($1 = 1.3943 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)