July 31, 2019 / 10:27 AM / 17 days ago

Directors of Australia's Crown Resorts attack 'deceitful campaign' in letter

(Reuters) - Casino operator Crown Resorts (CWN.AX) on Wednesday dismissed media reports that it flouted visa rules to bring Chinese gamblers to Australia after the government ordered an inquiry into immigration officials’ dealings with the company.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Australian casino giant Crown Resorts Ltd adorns the hotel and casino complex in Melbourne, Australia, June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

Since the weekend, media have said Crown hired travel agents with ties to drug traffickers to bring in the gamblers, knowingly allowed the gamblers to launder money at its casinos and pressured immigration officials to fast-track visas for high rollers.

After the reports, Attorney General Christian Porter said he referred the accusations to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, an anti-corruption body that investigates federal agencies, since they related to government officials.

In a open letter signed by its board, and circulated by the Australian Securities Exchange, Crown’s directors said the company was being subjected to a deceitful campaign that had unfairly attempted to damage its reputation.

“Much of this unbalanced and sensationalized reporting is based on unsubstantiated allegations, exaggerations, unsupported connections and outright falsehoods,” the directors said.

“Crown has not sought to circumvent visa requirements or compromise any process of identification or verification for immigration purposes,” they added.

Signatories included Crown’s Executive Chairman John Alexander, former finance department head Jane Halton, former communications minister Helen Coonan and Geoff Dixon, the former chief executive of Qantas Airways (QAN.AX).

Founder and major shareholder James Packer did not sign the letter, as the billionaire has no executive or board position, despite owning a fifth of the company.

The letter reiterated previous company statements that it had a comprehensive anti-money laundering program and a robust process for vetting junket operators, describing itself as “a highly reputable Australian and global tourism operator”.

A Crown spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email seeking further explanation of the letter.

Crown shares have fallen 6.4% in three trading days since media started running the reports.

Crown also denied withholding market-sensitive information in a letter published separately that responded to an Australian Securities Exchange query whether it had withheld information that might have influenced trade in its shares.

Reporting by Byron Kaye in SYDNEY and Nikhil Kurian Nainan in BENGALURU; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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