Australia Crown's ex-chair Rankin faces ASIC referral over China arrests, Packer threat

12:50  21 october  2020
12:50  21 october  2020 Source:   smh.com.au

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"The arrests in China occurred against the backdrop of Crown ' s massive investment in its Sydney venture at Barangaroo, which has been spruiked as Since the arrests , Crown has downplayed the amount of revenue it receives from VIP customers. Crown told the market in October that less than

James Packer rejoins the board of his casino giant Crown Resorts after a profit slump and the arrest of 18 Mr Rankin will step down as chair of Crown on February 1, but will remain on the board, the company China ' s actions against Crown and its staff are a major threat to the company' s revenues.

Crown Resorts' former chairman Robert Rankin could be referred to the corporate watchdog over his failure to protect the casino giant's staff in China, and his decision not to tell his co-directors that James Packer threatened a businessman over a soured takeover deal.

James Packer wearing a suit and tie: MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 21: Chairman and biggest shareholder James Packer and incoming chairman Rob Rankin are seen arriving at the Crown Resorts annual general meeting at Crown Entertainment Complex on October 21, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. James Packer is handing the Chairman position to Rob Rankin. (Photo by Patrick Scala/Fairfax Media) © Pat Scala MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 21: Chairman and biggest shareholder James Packer and incoming chairman Rob Rankin are seen arriving at the Crown Resorts annual general meeting at Crown Entertainment Complex on October 21, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. James Packer is handing the Chairman position to Rob Rankin. (Photo by Patrick Scala/Fairfax Media)

Counsel assisting the NSW probity inquiry into Crown, Scott Aspinall, made the bombshell suggestion on Wednesday that the inquiry may send evidence it has uncovered about Mr Rankin to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to investigate a possible breach of directors' duties.

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Packer and his senior Crown Entertainment executives should have seen the looming problems. But James Packer ' s billion plan to build a mecca for Chinese high-rollers is now under threat . And it would appear the Chinese hierarchy is sparing no effort to send that message through loud and clear.

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Mr Rankin was Crown's chairman from 2015 to 2017 - which included the period in which 19 Crown employees were arrested and jailed in China for gambling crimes - and at other times ran major shareholder Mr Packer's private company Consolidated Press Holdings.

However, Mr Aspinall revealed on Wednesday that Mr Rankin had refused to give evidence to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry, which has the same powers as a royal commission and is considering whether Crown should keep the licence for its new Sydney casino.

Mr Aspinall said in the absence of any explanation from Mr Rankin about his actions, Commissioner Patricia Bergin was open to find that he failed to notify his co-directors about his concerns - revealed in an email to executives - in 2015 that Crown should be on "high alert" to the risk of staff being arrested in China amid a crackdown on foreign casinos, and had failed to follow up on that email to ensure Crown was taking steps to protect staff.

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The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS, or in Welsh: Gwasanaeth Erlyn y Goron), is the principal public agency for conducting criminal prosecutions in England and Wales.

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Mr Rankin had also failed to notify his colleagues on the board of the serious threat Mr Packer made in November 2015 to Melbourne businessman Ben Gray after a deal to privatise Crown soured, Mr Aspinall said.

"In those circumstances you may determine to recommend to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority that it consider referring Mr Rankin to ASIC for investigation for possible breaches of section 180 of the Corporations Act," Mr Aspinall said, referring to laws covering company directors' duties.

Mr Aspinall said a referral would be on the basis that "Mr Rankin, as the chairman of a public company, failed in his obligations of due care and diligence to alert the full board of the need to elevate its concerns for its staff in China to significant risk and to act accordingly to protect them from arrest by the Chinese authorities".

"Secondly, Mr Rankin...failed in his obligations of due care and diligence to advise the full board of the serious threat that had been made by one of its co-directors, Mr Packer".

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That threatening email to the then-head of private equity firm TPG was revealed in an explosive day of evidence this month, in which Mr Packer said his "shameful" and "disgraceful" behaviour was the result of his bipolar disorder.

Penalties for breaching directors' duties can include fines or orders banning individuals from managing a company.

Mr Rankin's absence from the inquiry has been a source of speculation, with current and former directors and senior executives at Crown asked about their relationship with Mr Rankin and when they last spoke with him.

During his testimony, Mr Packer - who was a senior executive, director and chairman at Crown before stepping back from corporate life in 2018 - blamed Mr Rankin for the China disaster, saying he "let me down" and "let the side down".

Mr Aspinall told the inquiry that Mr Rankin was in Europe, away from his home in England, and had refused to provide written evidence or appear via video link, and contended that the inquiry did not have the power to serve him with a legal notice.

The inquiry has not previously raised the prospect of ASIC action against Crown directors. However it has detailed how other directors, including one of Mr Packer's representatives Michael Johnston, knew about the rising risks in China but had failed to act.

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The inquiry on Wednesday also heard from former Qantas boss Geoff Dixon, who left Crown's board last year after 12 years as a director, and who said Crown's executives had failed to alert the board to growing dangers in China.

Mr Dixon, who was chair of the risk management committee for most of his tenure, said the failures in risks management was "systemic" and that reporting lines were "compromised" by the close involvement of Mr Packer and his board representative Mr Johnston in the management of Crown's international VIP business. That resulted in Mr Johnston, for instance, knowing about China's crackdown on foreign casinos when other directors did not.

"It certainly wasn't known to me, and I suspect the other board members, that Michael Johnston - a very good executive - was heavily involved in going to those [VIP] meetings," Mr Dixon said.

The inquiry, which was sparked by a series of reports by this masthead and 60 Minutes, has examined how Crown facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos, ignored evidence its "junket" high-roller tour partners were involved in organised crime, and failed to protect its employees in China from arrest despite clear warning signs they were at risk.

Crown will face shareholders at its annual general meeting on Thursday.

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