Crown Resorts director John Poynton, who had prior knowledge of a decision to sell a large stake in the company to Macau-based casino operator Melco Resorts, has claimed he would withhold that information from the rest of the board again if he had his time over, an inquiry heard on Thursday.
The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority probe is examining the suitability of Crown to hold a restricted gaming licence for its near-complete Barangaroo casino on Sydney’s waterfront.
And one of several conditions imposed on this permit required the ASX-listed gaming giant to prevent the late Chinese gaming mogul Stanley Ho from taking a direct, indirect or beneficial interest in it.
Still, through a trust, Dr Ho was one of the largest shareholders in Melco Resorts’ parent company – Melco International – meaning Crown would breach that covenant if the $1.8 billion share sale proceeded in May 2019.
The parties have since cancelled the second tranche of the sale, and Melco Resorts has sold its remaining interest in Crown.
The inquiry heard billionaire James Packer, who had decided to sell nearly half of his 47 per cent shareholding in Crown as part of the deal, had made Mr Poynton aware several hours before the transaction on May 30, 2019.
Mr Poynton said he had no knowledge of Melco’s link to Dr Ho, and no specific understanding that the sale could have an impact on Crown’s regulatory agreements.
I didn’t think it was my responsibility.
— John Poynton
“You would accept that it would have been a good idea to inform your colleagues on the board about this transaction … given your directors’ duties?” counsel assisting the inquiry Adam Bell asked.
“No,” Mr Poynton replied. “I had a verbal conversation with Mr Packer where he indicated he had entered into an agreement. I had no status as to the nature of that agreement as it related to signed documents and, in my view, it was an incomplete transaction.”
“I didn’t think it was my responsibility, given he had two other executives, on the [Crown] board, of CPH [Consolidated Press Holdings, Mr Packer’s private company], to be the one go about informing other directors.”
The executives Mr Poynton references are CPH finance director Michael Johnston and CPH chief executive Guy Jalland, who have also given evidence to the inquiry.
Mr Poynton disagreed with a follow-up proposition that, because the transaction was incomplete, it should have led him to check whether it breached Crown’s regulatory covenants.
“I’m not sure, and I’m still not sure, about whether the associations led to Mr Stanley Ho having a beneficial interest in the companies in question.”
But Mr Poynton agreed he had never looked into the connection.
Mr Poynton recalled that he had tried to call then-Crown executive chairman John Alexander about the deal, but failed to get through to Mr Alexander and leave a message.
Mr Alexander did not return the call.
The inquiry, the final findings and recommendations of which could see further restrictions placed on Crown’s licence or it revoked entirely, continues.