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Company News

UPDATE 2-Australia's Crown Resorts accused of 'arrogant indifference' to compliance at inquiry

(Adds Crown comment in final paragraph)

SYDNEY, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd has been accused at an Australian regulatory inquiry of having a “culture of denial and arrogant indifference to compliance” in its dealings with junket operators.

In a third day of summation arguments, one of the lawyers running the inquiry said on Friday that Crown had ignored warning signs and breached an obligation to deal with people “of good repute”.

The culture of denial and indifference permeated the organisation, said lawyer Nicole Sharp, adding that Crown’s founder and 36% shareholder James Packer had “set a dubious tone from the top”.

She said Crown had kept a room in its Melbourne casino for clients of a junket operator even after law enforcement agencies wrote to the company warning of the operator’s suspected criminal past overseas.

The inquiry is widely expected to result in regulatory action against Packer and Crown, which has two casinos and is banking its growth on a new 75-floor complex in Sydney that opens in December.

Another lawyer running the inquiry on Thursday raised the prospect that the Crown’s casino licence could be suspended or even cancelled.

Crown has previously argued it has improved vetting of junket operators and in August said it had suspended all junket relationships until mid-2021. Packer, testifying at the inquiry, has acknowledged a strong influence over the company and suggested a cap on his ownership as a condition for Crown to keep its licence.

The retired judge overseeing the hearings, Patricia Bergin, on Friday called the suspension of junkets “cynical” since Australia’s borders are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bergin is due to give formal recommendations by February.

Australia’s financial crime agency has also begun investigating Crown on suspicion of failure to comply with anti money-laundering protocols, while the country’s corporate regulator has also said it might open its own probe.

A video purporting to show moneylaundering activities at Crown’s Melbourne casino that was released publicly last year by an independent member of parliament was replayed at the inquiry on Friday.

Another lawyer running the inquiry, Scott Aspinall, said the footage could not give the regulator overseeing the Sydney casino “any confidence that Crown Resorts has the ability to operate suitably, with sufficient resistence to exploitation from money laundering”.

A Crown spokesperson declined to comment, citing respect for the inquiry. When the footage was first released, the company denied that it showed money laundering. The hearing resumes on Monday. (Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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