Crown shareholders rebel after casino giant pays millions to departed executives

Troubled company avoids board spill despite investor reprimand over nearly $10m in termination payments

Crown Resorts shareholders have again rebelled against the casino operator after it paid millions of dollars to executives who have left the troubled company.

Nearly 31% of proxy votes were cast against the company’s remuneration report before its annual general meeting on Thursday.

It’s the second straight year that votes against have exceeded the 25% threshold needed to register a “strike” against Crown.

The two consecutive strikes opened the way for a resolution to spill the entire board, but investors overwhelmingly rejected this idea with 95% of proxies voting against it.

In the 2021 financial year Crown paid more than $20m to executives who have left the company, including $9.6m in termination payments.

The acting chair Jane Halton defended making the payments, saying they were required under “longstanding contracts”.

But she said the board was in the process of overhauling its executive pay regime. She said it was something that came up in discussions with shareholders and proxy advisers.

“What I can tell you is that people were looking for an explanation of these termination payments,” she said.

Halton refused to allow questions to be put to Ziggy Switkowski, who is set to replace her as chair.

Switkowski, a former nuclear scientist and veteran non-executive director, was to be put up for election at the meeting but this has been delayed because he is yet to receive approval from gambling regulators.

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Halton also refused to let new directors Nigel Morrison and Bruce Carter, who were elected with votes of more than 99% in favour, answer questions about their track records in corporate Australia.

Crown’s annual general meeting was not the place to discuss other companies, she said.

The company has been thrown into turmoil by allegations aired at inquiries in New South Wales and Victoria that Crown facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos, and that junket operators who brought in high-rolling customers had links to organised crime.

Crown is still reeling from a scathing inquiry report delivered in NSW by former judge Patricia Bergin, who found it was unsuitable to hold the licence to operate a new casino at Barangaroo in Sydney Harbour.

It is awaiting the release of findings of a Victorian royal commission, which are due within weeks, that has heard Crown should lose its licence to run its flagship Melbourne casino.

A third inquiry, a royal commission in Western Australia, is also under way.

Halton again apologised for signing a letter from the Crown board in 2019 that hit back against allegations made by Nine Entertainment outlets.

The letter contained a number of falsehoods and attacked a whistleblower Nine relied upon in its coverage.

“We’ve apologised for that action and I would like to reiterate that apology,” she said.

Contributor

Ben Butler

The GuardianTramp

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