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Crown ‘unable to govern itself’ after spiking dirty cash probe, inquiry told

Mr Aspinall said Crown’s stunning about-face and concession this week that criminals probably did launder the proceeds of crime in bank accounts linked to its Melbourne and Perth casinos was yet further proof.

“What it says is that this company is unable to govern itself because it cannot see the obviousness of money laundering when it is put before it,” he said. “It will not concede and cooperate with a regulator, to agree to that proposition when it is plain as a pikestaff that money laundering had occurred.”

Commissioner Patricia Bergin will hand down her findings on Crown's suitability by February next year.

Commissioner Patricia Bergin will hand down her findings on Crown’s suitability by February next year.

ILGA on Wednesday blocked Crown from opening its new casino next month, and will not permit gaming operations to start until Commissioner Patricia Bergin delivers her report on its suitability to hold a licence at all, which is due by February.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Naomi Sharp, SC, said that while Crown was trying to address its multitude of shortcomings by suspending junket partnerships, loosening Mr Packer’s influence and putting new compliance systems in place, it had much more work to do.

Crown needed to show it understood why things had gone so badly wrong and take responsibility for it, she said.

“If somebody had a problem with illegal drug addiction, it would be one thing if access was cut off to the source of the illegal drugs,” Ms Sharp said. “But it wouldn’t necessarily mean the user had gained insight into what the problem was in the first place.”

One revelation by this masthead that has become central to the inquiry was that criminals laundered drug money through bank accounts Crown opened through misleadingly named shell companies called Southbank Investments and Riverbank Investments.

The new bundle of evidence Crown tendered to the inquiry at 11pm on Tuesday night revealed that after that report on August 5 last year, Crown’s then anti-money laundering manager Louise Lane launched an immediate investigation.

But after Ms Lane – who has since left the company – contacted external consultants to review transactions in the accounts, Crown’s lawyers at MinterEllison advised the company that the findings of the investigation would not be covered by legal privileged and it was halted.

Mr Aspinall said that in his earlier submission, he had not encouraged Commissioner Bergin to find Crown had “turned a blind eye” to money laundering, suggesting it had instead happened through ignorance or apathy. “The new evidence… suggests something much more concerning,” Mr Aspinall said on Friday.

“Ms Lane had told them there was a problem that needed to be reviewed and they purposely decided not to. That… is perhaps worse than turning a blind eye: it’s to turn open eyes away to a problem, and then to turn your eyes away from a problem afraid of what you might find.”

While Crown’s legal team has argued the money laundering in the Southbank and Riverbank accounts were historical problems and that the accounts were now closed, Mr Aspinall said the fact the decision to kill the investigation was made just last year spoke to Crown’s unsuitability.

Crown’s chief executive Ken Barton had earlier told the inquiry he did not believe ANZ Bank had raised “serious issues” when it told Crown in 2014 it was concerned the accounts were being used for money laundering.

Mr Aspinall said it was commendable that Mr Barton – who took on the top job in January – now recognised the seriousness of the problem, but that did not change how the gambling regulator “could have any confidence that when faced with future problems that will no doubt arise, Mr Barton will be able to detect and act appropriately in response”.

Meanwhile Mr Aspinall said the fact Crown and its legal team had not produced emails showing Ms Lane commissioning her short-lived investigation under summons issued in February showed that regulators could not trust what was going on at the company.

“How can you possibly regulate them?” he asked.

The Victorian Liquor and Gaming Authority said on Friday it has demanded copies of the bombshell new evidence Crown presented to the ILGA inquiry this week, and would “review and consider this information”.

A VCGLR spokeswoman said the regulator “was not notified or made aware” of concerns from Crown’s banks dating back to 2014 that money laundering was happening in its accounts.

Victoria’s deputy premier James Merlino said on Friday it was wrong and inappropriate to conclude that the VCGLR needed to be reformed just because it was only learning about money laundering and other issues at Crown Melbourne casino via the NSW inquiry.

“If information is exposed through that process and then the VCGLR responds to that information, that is entirely appropriate,” Mr Merlino said at a press conference. “I wouldn’t make the conclusion… that they’re not doing their job”.

with Paul Sakkal

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