MELBOURNE, AAP – Crown Melbourne’s compliance head has told a royal commission she was pressured into threatening to ring the Victorian gaming minister during a call with the state’s gambling regulator.
Michelle Fielding, Crown’s regulatory and compliance executive general manager, on Monday said she felt “uncomfortable” telling a Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation member in 2019 that the firm’s chief legal officer, Josh Preston, was “furious”.
Mr Preston, she said, was unhappy with the VCGLR’s claim that Crown had been reluctant to act on its recommendation to increase scrutiny of junket operators, which brought high rollers to the casino from overseas.
Ms Fielding said another senior Crown figure was in her office as she made the call and pushed her to say Mr Preston had considered “escalating” the matter to the state gaming minister.
“Josh was fairly annoyed, to put it lightly,” Ms Fielding told the inquiry into whether Crown can retain a licence for its Melbourne operations.
“I didn’t choose to respond aggressively – I was asked to respond in a very firm manner.”
Counsel assisting Penny Neskovcin QC asked Ms Fielding whether this behaviour was appropriate.
“Not really,” Ms Fielding responded. “And I was uncomfortable with it.”
Ms Neskovcin then asked the James Packer-backed group’s compliance head whether she did whatever Mr Preston requested.
“No,” she said.
“(But) I don’t think I recognised at that time it wasn’t an appropriate thing to do – I was just uncomfortable with it.
“It didn’t sit well with me.”
The VCGLR in July 2018 recommended that Crown tighten up scrutiny of individual gamblers who were part of junket groups in order to combat money laundering risks.
Jason Cremona, a VCGLR member, previously told the inquiry the regulator probed Crown about its lack of action on this recommendation in May 2019, less than two months from the deadline.
“I wouldn’t ring Jason again in that tone whether I was asked to or not,” Ms Fielding told the inquiry.
Meanwhile, Ms Fielding also revealed she has not read the VCGLR’s report on the arrest of 19 Crown employees in China in 2016 for gambling promotion offences, which was published earlier this year.
“How can the minister have faith this won’t happen again when you haven’t read the report?” Ms Neskovcin asked.
“I haven’t had the capacity to read it,” Ms Fielding responded.
The royal commission was set up by Daniel Andrews’ Labor government after a NSW inquiry found Crown unsuitable to operate its newly built casino in Sydney’s Barangaroo.
It continues on Monday.