Helen Coonan Signs on as Crown Resorts Chairwoman

Helen Coonan
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Crown Resorts has shifted its attention to recovery mode after the damning Bergin report into its operations in Melbourne and Perth that ultimately led to a recommendation that it not be granted a casino licence in Sydney.

The Australian Financial Review reports that current board chair Helen Coonan will accept a $2.5 million salary to rehabilitate the casino operator as company chairman.

Ms Coonan said she was the right person for the job, despite having sat since 2011 on a board that an inquiry found had allowed company management to turn a blind eye to money laundering, physical risks to staff in China and junket tour providers with links to criminal Triad gangs.

In her first interview since the report by Patricia Bergin SC was released, Ms Coonan acknowledged that the “shortcomings” it revealed made for “uncomfortable reading” but pointed to the review has singled her out as someone the NSW gaming regulator could work with to overhaul the company.

She did not put a timeframe on how long she would be in the top job but insisted she did not want to be there for an “extended amount of time” and did not take lightly the daunting challenge of finding a new chief executive and three new board members that would pass muster with chastened casino regulators in NSW, Victoria and WA.

The Board has appointed an external firm to conduct a “comprehensive global search” for a new chief executive after Ken Barton stepped down in mid-February following pressure from the NSW regulator, backed by the 18-month probe from Ms Bergin.

“I did not take this position lightly but the board concluded the approach would provide leadership, stability and certainty at an important time,” Ms Coonan said.

“Let me be clear: I do not see myself as executive chairman for an extended tenure.”

She emphasised it often took months to replace CEOs and indicated the company would find three new board members who would need to pass probity tests after the resignations of Guy Jalland, Michael Johnston and Andrew Demetriou.

Ms Coonan did not rule out staying on the board once a new CEO is found.

Victoria and WA to Launch their own casino investigations

investigation into crown casino
The gaming giant now faces an uncertain future with a full-blown royal commission in WA and an inquiry in Victoria into its suitability to run lucrative casinos in both states after the damning report.

Australia’s financial intelligence regulator AUSTRAC has also launched a money-laundering investigation, which Ms Coonan said could take “years” to resolve.

Ms Coonan will be in charge of overhauling the company to make it suitable to hold a gambling licence in NSW.

The task includes appointing several key roles including heads of human resources and internal audit as well as major reviews into accountability and culture.

The company’s new chief financial officer Steven Blackburn will start in two weeks.

Crown will also need to swiftly appoint a new general counsel and company secretary as a contact point for the NSW regulator and to coordinate responses to WA and Victorian probes after Mary Manos resigned last Thursday.

Ms Coonan also wants an internal review of how Crown treated Jenny Jiang, one of the 19 staff in China arrested in 2016, whom Crown tried to discredit via an ASX statement and advertisement in 2019.

Ms Coonan defended her $1.8 million pay rise as the gambling giant backed by James Packer sank to a $120 million loss in the December half and revenue collapsed 62 per cent to $581 million.

“I assume that you think it’s appropriate that executives are paid,” she said.

“What my remuneration is was something that was arrived at by an independent consultant, it had nothing to do with me.”

William Brown

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