PERTH, AAP – Western Australia’s gaming regulators opted not to investigate allegations of money laundering against Crown after the company’s “persuasive” former legal boss told them it was a media beat-up, a royal commission has been told.
The Crown Perth inquiry this week completed its first phase of hearings focused on the regulation of gambling in WA.
Former Gaming and Wagering Commission member Andrew Duckworth described how the regulator had responded in 2019 when Nine aired claims linking Crown to money laundering and fast-tracked visa applications for wealthy clients.
He said the GWC had resolved to take a “wait and see” approach while other inquiries were being undertaken, including in Victoria.
“The reasoning was we might get more information coming out of the Victorian inquiry which would then guide the GWC into any further action, if necessary,” Mr Duckworth said.
“Members obviously knew there was the power (to investigate) but there was no suggestion at this point in saying, “okay, well we’d better start our own investigation’.”
Crown’s then-legal boss Joshua Preston gave a presentation to the GWC, claiming the allegations were a “media beat-up” and pointing to examples of false allegations that had previously been made through the press.
“I started off being sceptical, but he was extremely persuasive,” Mr Duckworth told the inquiry.
“I suppose it’s one of those things, there’s always a case you can go back to.
“Occasionally someone’s been wrongly accused or whatever of something and, in the back of your mind, is sort of innocent until proven guilty.”
There was a “long-held” view within the GWC that “other agencies bore the prime responsibility for money laundering and that it was beyond our capability to do anything about it.”
Mr Duckworth said the GWC had taken a similar “wait and see” approach after Crown employees were arrested in China in 2016 for illegal promotion of gambling.
A bombshell NSW report into the company’s operations earlier this year found Crown was not suitable to hold the licence for a Sydney casino because it had facilitated money laundering through bank accounts held by subsidiaries.
The second phase of the WA inquiry, due to begin in July, will examine the suitability of Crown Perth to continue holding a casino licence.
Former GWC members have said inspections and audits were carried out at the casino but none were specifically aimed at identifying money laundering or other criminal activity.
The inquiry has also heard GWC members lacked experience in increasingly complex casino regulation.