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Oz casino group CEO resigns after laundering probe

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The entrance to the Crown Casino in Melbourne. William West/AFP

Oz casino group CEO resigns after laundering probe

One of Australia’s biggest casino groups has seen a boardroom exodus after being declared unsuitable to hold a gambling licence, with the CEO of Crown Resorts becoming the latest executive to resign on February 15.

A public inquiry last week recommended Crown Resorts should be denied a licence to run a new multi-billion-dollar casino that dominates Sydney’s skyline, over its failure to address allegations of money laundering and links to organised crime.

Crown Resorts CEO Ken Barton stepped down amid mounting pressure on February 15 after more than a decade with the firm, including as chief financial officer.

He follows three directors out the door in the wake of the scathing report into the firm, which was long run by media scion and billionaire James Packer.

Two of the departed directors represented Packer’s holding firm, CPH, which holds around 35 per cent of Crown shares.

The New South Wales Liquor and Gaming Authority commissioned the public inquiry after media reports that existing Crown casinos in Australia were used to launder profits from human trafficking, drugs, child sexual exploitation and terrorism.

Former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin said Crown was “not suitable” for a licence and had been “facilitating money laundering” and doing business with groups linked to triads and other organised crime organisations.

A company lawyer had told the inquiry that illicit funds were “probably” laundered through two high roller accounts at the company’s operations in Perth and Melbourne.

Bergin said the company had “poor corporate governance, deficient risk management . . . and a poor corporate culture”, recommending a series of reforms before the casino at the gleaming 75-storey tower on Sydney’s waterfront could open.

Company chair and former Australian government minister Helen Coonan will lead the search for a new CEO.

In a statement after the report’s release, Coonan accepted the findings as “warranted” and said steps were being taken to improve the company’s governance, compliance and culture but there was “much more to do”.

“We do not underestimate the scale of the problem and appreciate there is a need for ‘root and branch’ change,” said Coonan, who has been on the Crown board since 2012.

The inquiry’s findings and recommendations will be considered for formal adoption by regulators.

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