Probe into Crown Casino’s links to drugs and crime could embroil business heavy hitters — including James Packer, former AFL boss Andrew Demetriou and ad man Harold Mitchell

Melbourne, Australia, in early evening light. Yarra River, towards Flinders Street Station Crown Casino Fire (BerndC/Getty Images)
  • The federal government has launched an integrity investigation into Crown Resorts and a number of Commonwealth officials after reports by Nine-owned media outlets alleged Chinese criminal figures were fast-tracked through Australian immigration and that the gaming company had ties to drugs, prostitution and human trafficking.
  • The Crown board of directors has hit back in a strongly-worded statement accusing media outlets of “outright falsehoods” and “exaggerations”.
  • The Crown board is made up of some powerful business and political identities including former AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou, Howard government minister Helen Coonan, advertising industry veteran Harold Mitchell and former Qantas CEO Geoffrey Dixon. Billionaire James Packer remains a significant shareholder.

Crown Resorts is now the subject of a federal investigation following reports that the gaming giant has ties to drugs, prostitution and human trafficking — and the probe could spell trouble for some of the most powerful figures in Australian politics and business.

Attorney-General Christian Porter announced on Tuesday that the government has referred the allegations to the Australian Commissioner for Law Enforcement Integrity, sparked by reports aired by Nine’s 60 Minutes program and published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

The company — which operates the iconic Crown Casino on Melbourne’s Southbank and until recently was controlled by the Packer family — is not taking the allegations lying down.

Crown’s board of directors has now penned a strongly-worded advertisement, provided to the ASX, hitting back at the media outlets involved.

“The 60 Minutes program on Sunday night and related articles in the Fairfax press have unfairly attempted to damage Crown’s reputation,” the advertisement said.

“As a board, we are extremely concerned for our staff, shareholders and other stakeholders, as much of this unbalanced and sensationalised reporting is based on unsubstantiated allegations, exaggerations, unsupported connections and outright falsehoods.”

The board members may well be fearing for their own reputations — given they represent some of the upper echelons of the business and political elite.

The list of signatures appearing at the foot of the hard-hitting advertisement includes former Howard government minister Helen Coonan, Australian Football League CEO Andrew Demetriou, Qantas CEO Geoffrey Dixon, ANZ director Jane Halton and ad industry legend Harold Mitchell, former executive chairman of Aegis Media.

Ironically, the list of names also includes John Alexander, a former Packer lieutenant who was once editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald — one of the publications Crown is taking to task.

Rather than publish the advertisement as a standalone, the editors of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age chose to issue their own response to Crown, standing by their reports as “carefully sourced” and relying on “Crown’s internal documents, former employees, credible commentators, dozens of sources from the industry, law enforcement and elsewhere”.

The investigation could also embroil an even more powerful figure: Chinese president Xi Jinping.

The explosive report which kicked off the scandal named Xi’s cousin Ming Chai as being one of a number of Chinese nationals and Crown high-rollers who may have come to the attention of Australian federal agents.

Meanwhile, Packer — who retains a major shareholding in Crown albeit no longer a controlling stake — has maintained he only has a “passive interest” in the company now.

As the government investigation gets underway, some of the Crown board members may be wishing the same could be said of them.

Disclosure: Business Insider Australia is operated by Pedestrian Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nine Entertainment Co.