Casino inquiry admissions over China links

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A right-hand man to casino billionaire James Packer faces a third day of grilling at an inquiry run by NSW’s gaming regulator.

Michael Johnston’s evidence is due to continue on Tuesday after already admitting there should have been greater scrutiny during the sale of Crown Resorts stock to operators of China casinos, Melco Resorts.

Mr Johnston sits on the board of Crown Resorts and of Mr Packer’s investment company, CPH Crown Holdings.

He signed CPH’s May 2019 agreement to sell 19.9 per cent of Crown Resorts stock to Melco Resorts. Crown Resorts has said it was not aware of the deal before it was struck.

Melco, which operates casinos in China, is controlled by Lawrence Ho. His late father Stanley Ho had been banned from owning casinos in NSW because of his alleged organised crime links.

A probity inquiry run by the state’s gaming regulator is looking at whether the agreement breached the licence the NSW government issued to a Crown-owned company to run a new high-roller casino at Sydney’s Barangaroo.

“With the benefit of hindsight, I think that perhaps we should have looked more deeply,” Mr Johnston said, when asked if he should’ve investigated any potential link to Mr Ho.

Mr Packer is scheduled to face the inquiry later this week, along with a string of high-profile witnesses including former federal MP Helen Coonan, who is Crown’s chair.

Inquiry commissioner Patricia Bergin’s report is expected in early 2021.

Western Australia

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