Former chair chief John Alexander fronts Perth inquiry

by Ethan Anderson Last Updated
Independent report shines light on Victoria’s gambling regulator

Former chief executive officer at Crown Resorts, John Alexander, has given evidence to the Perth Casino royal commission, where he said the organisation had made significant strides in terms of risk management and independence since the death of Kerry Packer in 2005.

The Australian Financial Review reports that former chairman John Alexander rejected assertions by the casino giant’s current boss Helen Coonan that an “Old Crown” culture was to blame for extensive misconduct uncovered at the company, or that such a culture was active during his tenure in the top job.

Mr Alexander was on the company’s board from 2007 until January 2021, during which time he had stints as both chairman and chief executive and was viewed as Mr Packer’s right-hand man.

Much of the misconduct uncovered by the three state royal commissions or inquiries into Crown, including potentially millions of dollars in money laundering and the arrest of staff members in China, occurred in that time.

The WA royal commission is investigating Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence in light of these revelations, with the company pitching itself as a “New Crown” that recognises its past errors and is undertaking widespread reform.

But Mr Alexander undermined this pitch, telling the royal commission that rather than the reform project only starting with NSW’s Bergin inquiry last year, the company had shown an “evolving spirit” of improvement since the senior Packer’s death.

He said it had gone from risk management and independence not “really being a consideration” of the board under Kerry Packer to “refreshing, developing and deepening governance and compliance” practices under James, with this process “accelerating” since the Bergin inquiry.

“One of the first things James did when he inherited the company was to throw that lack of consideration of risk on its head,” he asid, pointing to his recruitment of “independent experienced business people”.

Alexander rebukes Coonan’s claims

He also suggested Ms Coonan’s claim that an “Old Crown” was responsible for the company’s misconduct was not in her own interests, either.

“Ms Coonan was a long-time director of Crown, so by that definition she is probably Old Crown as well,” Mr Alexander said.

Counsels assisting the Victorian royal commission into Crown slammed Ms Coonan’s ability to reform the company, saying she was too involved in its past misconduct and casting doubt whether such change was even possible, given there were signs of Old Crown at play as recently as this year.

Mr Alexander also denied there was any conflict of interest between his commitment to Mr Packer and the obligations to shareholders while at Crown, despite conceding that “the point of employment” was to feed financial and board information to the billionaire after he stepped down from the company in 2018.

“The entire rationale for my doing that…was to really drill down into the business perhaps in a more forensic sense than had happened before,” he said.

He said Mr Packer and the Crown board had a common interest in improving the company’s financial performance and, while he was engaged by the billionaire to complete that work, his work “wasn’t in isolation from the Crown board”.

Riverbank Investments not on Alexander’s radar until bombshell report

NSW Commissioner Patricia Bergin previously slammed Mr Alexander’s leadership of the company, suggesting he was a puppet who Mr Packer “managed remotely” without disclosing it to the market.

Mr Alexander also admitted he did not see any “red flags” in a Crown subsidiary he directed despite recent discoveries that millions of dollars could have been laundered through its accounts under his watch.

“There were no flags, or red flags, or indications that there were any issues,” he said of the Riverbank Investments company.

He did not realise it was vulnerable to money laundering until he read about it in 2019, blaming the oversight on the fact that he became director of “60-plus companies”, including Riverbank, the day former Crown CEO Rowen Craigie resigned in 2017.

“Most of those companies were explained to me to be shell companies supporting tax and financing structures,” he said.

“It’s not unusual for CEOs to have to sit on the boards of a vast number of companies which aren’t really companies.”

The royal commission will sit again on August 30 before handing down its final report in March 2022.

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