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Western Australia upgrades Crown Resorts inquiry to Royal Commission

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·2 min read
The logo of Australian casino giant Crown Resorts Ltd adorns the hotel and casino complex in Melbourne, Australia
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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Western Australia upgraded an inquiry into Crown Resorts Ltd to a high-powered Royal Commission on Friday, saying it needed to ensure there were sufficient legal protections to investigate the casino operator.

The move means the company, one-third owned by billionaire James Packer, will face Royal Commissions in two Australian states simultaneously, just as it seeks to rebuild its management following a separate inquiry that saw its CEO and a host of directors leave in the past month.

An inquiry into Crown's plans to open a new casino in Sydney last month found it was unfit to hold a gambling licence due to allegations it dealt with tour operators linked to organised crime, failed to protect staff jailed in China for breaking that country's anti-gambling laws, and had "dysfunctional" leadership dominated by Packer.

The states where Crown already has casinos subsequently announced their own inquiries, with Victoria choosing a quasi-judicial Royal Commission and Western Australia picking a less powerful format.

Before the upgrade to a Royal Commission, the Western Australian inquiry had the powers of a Royal Commission but the commissioner did "not have the immunities and protections afforded by the Royal Commissions Act", the state's Attorney General John Quigley told reporters.

A Royal Commission would "provide the next State Government with a thorough and independent examination" of Crown and the state's regulatory system, Racing and Gaming Minister Paul Papalia added in a statement.

The upgraded inquiry was called while the state government was in "caretaker" mode ahead of a state election.

Crown Chair Helen Coonan said the Royal Commission was an opportunity for the company to "detail the reforms and changes to our business to deliver the highest standards of governance and compliance, and an organisational culture that meets community expectations".

Royal Commissions are Australia's most powerful type of inquiry where investigators can compel witnesses to testify. They typically end with a report that may include recommendations for referrals to law enforcement agencies.

The Western Australia Royal Commission would be required to deliver its final report by Nov. 14, Quigley said, making it longer than the Victorian inquiry which runs to August.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Stephen Coates)