Crown finance team grilled by Perth Casino royal commission

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
Million dollar transaction raises Perth royal commission’s eyebrows

Crown’s chief financial officer faced an intense round of questioning during the recent hearing of the Perth Casino royal commission.

Sydney Morning Herald reports that Alan McGregor said that high-profile former executives such as Ken Barton and Barry Felstead shared the blame for not stamping out money laundering through a casino bank account used by overseas gamblers.

Alongside senior counsel Patricia Cahill, McGregor said targeting a “failure” to identify the risks related to the account run by a Crown subsidiary called Riverbank Investments.

Mr McGregor admitted he bore some responsibility for deficiencies in managing that risk but, when pressed further to “name names” over who else was responsible, listed off a number of high-profile executives and staff.

Former Crown Resorts chief executives Barry Felstead, Rowen Craigie and Ken Barton, as well as chief legal and compliance officer Josh Preston and another chief financial officer, Craig Spence, were among those identified by Mr McGregor.

Of those mentioned before the inquiry, Mr McGregor is the only executive still employed at Crown.

The NSW Bergin inquiry found Crown Perth did nothing about suspicious transactions under the mandatory $10,000 reporting limit being made into an ANZ account managed by Riverbank Investments for high-rollers in 2014.

Multiple transactions under mandatory reporting limits, known as ‘cuckoo smurfing’ or structuring, often indicate money laundering.

ANZ closed the Riverbank account due to structuring concerns in 2014, but Crown opened new accounts with Commonwealth Bank months later, which allowed the practice to continue.

Giving evidence to the royal commission on August 6, former Crown chief executive Mr Felstead said he did not find out about the suspicious transactions until the Bergin inquiry and said he “did not really get involved in the accounts”.

“I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. Maybe I should have, but it’s just not something I did in my day-to-day business,” he said.

“It was something that was highly regrettable and shouldn’t have happened.”

Riverbank account poses more questions than answers

Three former Burswood Limited non-executive directors – John Poynton, Maryna Fewster and Tim Roberts, have each told the royal commission they only became aware of the Riverbank Investment account after media reports in 2019.

Ms Fewster, who joined the board around the time concerns were raised that the accounts were being used by money launderers, told the inquiry she was comfortable that allegations of money laundering were untrue after Crown publicly denied the issue.

“The publication that the entire Crown Resorts Ltd board put in major publications in Australia refuting those claims, signed by all board members, gave me a…great deal of comfort at the time,” she said.

Ms Fewster received a board pack in December 2019, only a few months after the media report, which included a note that Commonwealth Bank was going to close the Riverbank Investments account.

She told the commission she did not question why the account was being closed.

“I don’t know that that one line at that time of my tenure would have grabbed my attention. I probably would have thought it was a compliance matter that they need to report it,” Ms Fewster said.

She said if the bank had indicated to Crown Perth management the reason it was closing the account was in relation to possible money laundering, then the board should have been told.

Mr Poynton, who sat on the Burswood board from 2004 to February and spent his last year there as chairman, rejected Ms Cahill’s proposition that he had failed to ask the right questions of management.

“What question would I have asked? We rely on management to provide us information to carry out our duties as a director,” he said.

“And if they don’t tell us that there is a subsidiary company that subsequently is a problem, then I’m not sure, other than relying on management, fellow directors who are more deeply enmeshed in the company than I as a director could do.”

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