Former Victorian government adviser embroiled in tussle with regulator
A former high ranking Victorian government adviser is alleged to have pushed Crown Resorts’ regulatory boss into intimidating the state’s gambling regulator to turn a blind eye to concern over the venue’s money laundering controls.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Crown’s regulatory and compliance boss Michelle Fielding told the Crown royal commission that Premier Daniel Andrews’ former senior Victorian government adviser, Chris Reilly, who was then Crown’s head of corporate affairs, was in the room and prompted her to relay the threat of calling in the gaming minister.
The May 2019 phone call was an attempt to intimidate a Victorian Commission for Gaming and Liquor Regulation officer who had raised concerns about Crown failing to act on a key recommendation from its 2018 licence review, which was to consult with the financial crimes watchdog AUSTRAC to ensure it had suitable anti-money laundering controls in place.
Ms Fielding told the commission that she “didn’t choose to respond aggressively, I was asked to” by Crown’s then chief legal officer Joshua Preston and Mr Reilly.
“Do you think it’s an appropriate thing to do…to say you’re going to elevate it to the minister?” Counsel assisting the inquiry Penny Neskovcin asked.
“Not really and to be honest with you, I was uncomfortable with it,” Ms Fielding responded.
“Then why did you do it?Neskovcin asked.
“Because that’s what he’d asked me to do,” she said.
Call made to VCGLR officer threatening to involve minister in Crown matters
Ms Fielding said Crown’s then head of corporate affairs Mr Reilly was in the room with her at the time of the phone call and prompted her to say that Mr Preston would take up the matter with Victoria’s then gaming minister, Marlene Kairouz.
Mr Reilly was director of parliamentary affairs and strategic relations for premier Daniel Andrews, who was himself the gaming minister in the Bracks government, until 2018, when he left to join Crown.
The Andrew government has been criticised for its close relationship with Crown in light of revelations over the past two years that its Southbank casino was infiltrated by international criminal syndicates and had become a money laundering hotspot.
Mr Andrews, who resisted calls for an inquiry into Crown until a probe in NSW found the group unfit to hold a casino licence in the state, said he did not regret delaying the royal commission.
“We’ve established a royal commission, we’ve chosen a commissioner who I think is regarded in the highest possible terms as a person of integrity, as a person who will do this job properly,” Mr Andrews said.
He has refused to be drawn on whether he had been shocked by the revelations of the royal commission, but said he was “not easily shocked”, and that he was eagerly awaiting the final report.
Ms Fielding conceded it was concerning that she did not feel comfortable talking to the regulator in that manner but did so anyway.
“I wouldn’t ring the VCGLR officer in that tone again, whether I was asked to or not,” she said.
Crown breaches acknowledged as early as 2012
Ms Fielding was the compliance manager at Crown Melbourne at the time and is now the head of compliance across the whole Crown Resorts group.
It was also revealed on Monday that Crown knew as far back as 2012 that it was potentially breaking the law by accepting credit card payments through its hotel desk in exchange for gambling chips.
Crown disclosed the breach of Victorian law to the commission and VCGLR earlier this month, after accepting around $160 million in payments this way between 2012 and 2016.
Ms Fielding was shown a 2012 email she wrote explaining she did not think the practice was legal, but outlining what Crown could argue to defend itself “if the matter arises”.
Commissioner Ray Finkelstein asked: “If you weren’t going to get caught you’d get away with it, and if you got caught, you knew you would be in trouble”.
“Basically,” Ms Fielding responded.