WA Royal Commission chair questioned over conflict of interest

The WA Royal Commission will deliver a final report by March 2022.
The WA Royal Commission will deliver a final report by March 2022.

The state’s Royal Commission into Crown Perth is being led by Neville Owen, who has personal interests with some of the witnesses.

Australia.- The Royal Commission examining Crown Perth has taken a new turn after Geoffrey Watson SC, a former senior counsel for New South Wales’s corruption watchdog, questioned the choice of Neville Owen as lead commissioner.

Watson claims Owen has connections with Kerry Stokes, a local billionaire who controls various businesses. He says Owen is the director of Clabon Pty Ltd, which is a shareholder in Stokes’ private investment vehicle, Australian Capital. 

Owen has admitted that one of the committee witnesses, Crown Burswood director Maryna Fivester, was the chief executive officer of Seven West Media, one of Stoke’s companies. The inquiry also heard from John Alexander, a former Crown executive who is a member of the Seven West board. 

According to ABC, Stokes also has a close relationship with Crown’s major shareholder James Parker and managed his personal affairs during a time.

Owen has dismissed suggestions of a conflict of interests, but Watson insisted the Royal Commission needed to be “utterly independent and beyond reproach.”

WA premier Mark McGowan has given his support to Owen describing him as an “eminent jurist” and praising his experience and honour. however, former premier Colin Barnett said Owen’s appointment was odd.

He said: “For a person of his knowledge and his expertise, you would have expected he would have thought that was relevant, that he declare his association with Stokes.”

Crown Perth used private jets and luxury yachts to attract high rollers

According to John Alexander, former Crown Resorts chief executive, Crown Perth tried to attract VIP clients by offering luxury yachts, private jets and even subsidising multi-million dollar weddings.

However, the approach brought huge losses for the casino operator. During the inquiry, Patricia Cahill, counsel assisting the Royal Commission, cited the example of a wedding that was held for a friend of an intermediary at a cost of more than AU$2.75m. 

According to Cahill, Crown Perth funded approximately AU$950,000 in wedding expenses. However, Alexander admitted that sometimes high rollers chose not to gamble, which resulted in big debts for the casino operator. Cahill said the wedding party resulted in a loss of AU$3.1m for Crown Perth.

The inquiry also heard that a gambler has an AU$29m debt since February 2014. Another gambler had debts of AU$10m, which have been outstanding since October 2012.

Alexander argued that Crown Perth’s ability to enforce debt repayment was “very limited” because the gamblers live in another country. He said individual high rollers were harder to recover debts from, compared to junket operators, who guaranteed the debts of participants.

In July, Paul Evans, GWC’s lawyer, said that although the Western Australian Royal Commission into Crown Perth will continue until March 2022, the gaming regulator may call on Racing and Gaming Minister Reece Whitby to cancel Crown’s licence before the ending of the inquiry.

In this article:
Crown Perth Crown Resorts GAMBLING REGULATION