Crown Resorts chief executive Kenneth Barton denies misleading shareholders over an information-sharing agreement with company magnate James Packer.
An inquiry into a Crown subsidiary’s suitability to hold a casino licence in Sydney was on Wednesday told that a shareholder at Crown’s 2019 AGM asked whether the company gave Mr Packer more information than other investors.
As chief financial officer, Mr Barton was then sharing daily reports with Mr Packer, under a protocol that allowed the company to provide confidential information to its former director.
However, Mr Barton answered the shareholder’s question only by talking about an information-sharing arrangement with Consolidated Press Holdings, the board of which Mr Packer had resigned.
“I suggest to you that you gave a deliberately misleading response to the shareholders,” counsel assisting the inquiry Adam Bell SC said.
Mr Barton responded that he was “trying to be helpful” by telling the shareholder information that was already publicly known.
But he agreed the fact he was sharing information with Mr Packer did not have to be kept confidential.
Mr Packer is due to appear before the NSW Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry next week.
The inquiry, running since January, was prompted by media reports that Crown casinos were used for money laundering and organised crime, as well as the sale of Crown shares to Melco Resorts.
Mr Barton acknowledged that Crown’s processes for preventing money-laundering needed to improve, to be more proactive reviewing whether accounts of two private Crown-owned companies had been used to launder money.
Media reports suggested the accounts had received funds from suspected or convicted money launderers and drug traffickers.
Among the mistakes, Mr Barton conceded was a misleading response given to journalists preparing a report on those accounts.
The executive said he was not aware it was misleading at the time, but did not correct the record when he later learned that it was.
Inquiry commissioner Patricia Bergin described Mr Barton’s evidence as “troubling”.
“There has to be some more transparency, because this in effect has really reached a debacle level …. Mr Barton has made a lot of concessions, but at the moment it is just extraordinarily troubling,” Ms Bergin said.
Crown’s general counsel and company secretary Mary Manos earlier said she did not look into the bank accounts of the two companies, for which she was secretary, following the media allegations.
She insisted she met her compliance obligations, but did not have intimate knowledge of the companies’ transactions.
“(Getting) down on hands and knees” was “not something you would expect of the company secretary”, she said.
“Surely someone should have said, ‘for goodness’ sake, let’s get hold of these accounts, the corporation’s reputation is being sullied in the press on a daily basis, let’s look if the accounts have anything suspicious in them’,” Ms Bergin said.
“I accept that,” Ms Manos replied.
Ms Bergin said “(getting) down on your hands and knees and (looking) at dusty bank accounts” was “the very thing that should have happened, surely?”.
Ms Manos acknowledged that “more questions could have been asked”.