Former Crown director drops bombshell at Perth Casino royal commission

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
Lawyer questions Perth Casino royal commissioner’s place on panel

The Perth Casino royal commission has received a statement from a former Crown Resorts director claiming the casino operator’s chairwoman acted in an ‘inappropriate’ manner as she and the New South Wales regulator piled pressure on him to resign.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a submission by John Poynton expressed his criticism of Crown’s Helen Coonan and NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority chairman Philip Crawford for trying to make him quit without an opportunity to defend himself to the company’s board.

Mr Poynton had sat on Crown’s board as a nominee of major shareholder Consolidated Press Holdings and its owner James Packer since 2018, who he replaced as a non-executive director, before he resigned on February 28.

The Perth based millionaire had already been a director on Crown subsidiary Burswood limited, which itself was the parent company to another entity, Burswood Nominees Ltd, which held the Perth casino since 2004 after being asked to take on the job by Mr Packer.

Mr Poynton faced pressure to leave both roles after the Bergin inquiry found in early February that Crown was not fit to hold a licence for its new Sydney casino and Mr Packer’s involvement with the group should be reconsidered as his influence had seen “disastrous consequences for the company”.

CPH’s other two nominated directors soon quit alongside two other members of the 11-person Crown board and the chief executive Ken Barton after the Bergin report was handed down.

Poynton fought against resignation

But Mr Poynton had thought he should stay on because no adverse findings had been made against him, the report noted he could be integral to future success and a consultancy agreement he had with CPH had been terminated on February 10, which could clear the path for him to become an independent director in three years time under ASX guidelines.

“I hoped to be part of the solution for the Crown Group and to assist in the rebuilding process,” he wrote in his submission to the Perth commission.

“I believe that I could have continued to make a meaningful contribution as a director of Crown and Burswood, including by assisting in discussions for its potential acquisition.”

Mr Poynton told the inquiry, which is examining whether Crown should keep its WA casino licence, he was subject to a media campaign by Mr Crawford based on a ‘false premise’ he could not remain on the board because of his past relationship with Mr Packer.

“There was nothing in probity in NSW to say that someone couldn’t be on a board of a casino company merely because of a previous association with Mr Packer,” he said.

Mr Crawford, who heads the regulator which now makes the decision on whether Crown is making enough changes to the company to get the casino licence for its unopened Sydney venture, made several media appearances from February 17 to 22 calling on Mr Poynton to step down for a clean slate.

Coonan-Poynton exchanges made public

Contents of a letter from Mr Crawford to Ms Coonan on February 22 were revealed in Mr Poynton’s Perth submission and stated his intention to stay on the board was not acceptable.

“Mr Poynton’s termination of the consultancy agreement with CPH and his stated intention of staying on the Crown board as an independent is not acceptable to the authority as it consults with Crown on whether it can become suitable to hold a licence,” it said.

“The authority understands from you that Crown’s own constitution provides that a nominee on that board does not become independent for a period of three years after severing ties with his/her appointer.”

Seven West Media boss next witness at inquiry

The letter had been given to Mr Poynton by Ms Coonan but his subsequent attempts to convince her and the regulator he should stay on were shot down.

Ms Coonan wrote to Mr Poynton on February 25 suggesting if he did not step down then Crown’s casino licence could be cancelled.

“The cancellation of the casino licence will trigger a breach of the Crown Group lending covenants and adversely affect Crown Resorts interest in NSW, Victoria and WA, and its related companies,” she said.

“As a director of Crown Resorts, you are obliged to act in the best interests of Crown Resorts.

“This is the last time I will informally seek your resignation. If you do not receive written confirmation of your resignation by 12 noon tomorrow…I will commence steps to deal with this issue.”

Mr Poynton said if the conclusion was the casino ran fine 99 per cent of the time then the focus should be on fixing what went wrong.

“If in fact at the end of that you realise that the structure is unable to be put right then inevitably you end up with the need to have stronger oversight in a much more conventional way…and not rely on the efficiencies that come from a shared services model,” he said.

Seven West Media chief executive Maryna Fewster is the next witness to appear in front of the commission in early August.

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