Culture, not 'bad apples' to blame at Star

Embattled gaming company Star Entertainment has failed to realise the “insidious effect” of its “delinquent” corporate culture on managers, an inquiry into the fitness of The Star Sydney to hold a casino licence has been told.

The NSW gaming regulator is hearing submissions from lawyers on behalf of witnesses at the long-running inquiry, which has probed allegations of money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference at Star and its Sydney venue.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Naomi Sharp SC has previously argued Star and The Star Sydney are not suitable entities to keep the casino licence as management is only starting to fix a litany of corporate failings.

The Star’s legal team, by contrast, says the company previously failed on a range of issues but since a clean-out of management is now fit to hold the licence.

On Friday, Anne Horvath SC, for former Star lawyer Oliver White, rejected Star’s claim that problems arose from “a few bad apples” who had now left the company.

“This characterisation, so far as it relates to Mr White, is unfair and inappropriate, and it ignores the powerful impact that The Star’s corporate culture has had on Mr White,” Ms Horvath told the inquiry.

“The Star may not have realised the insidious effect that its delinquent culture has had on employees like Mr White.”

Ms Horvath pointed to emails from Mr White urging that someone at Star needed to “take ownership” of a controversial casino scheme involving debit cards from Chinese financial services company China Union Pay (CUP).

A central issue has been the casino’s deployment of CUP cards, with the inquiry previously told problems with the process included sham documents, the misleading of banks and regulators, and a possible breach of casino control laws.

About $900 million was transacted on the cards before the scheme was shut down.

Ms Horvath said Mr White on three occasions in one month raised with at least nine other Star employees, including the chief financial officer and regulatory affairs manager, the need to consider liaising with the gaming regulator on the CUP process.

“The business instead chose to court that risk,” Ms Horvath said.

“Those emails clearly demonstrated to Mr White and all other recipients that the business’ approach to these issues was at a minimum cavalier.

“Mr White was being told ‘this is the way we do things around here’.”

On another occasion, Ms Horvath said her client, in emails with senior executives about using a cheque-cashing facility with the process, twice warned the scheme may not “find favour” with the regulator, and could even break the law.

Despite the advice, she said her client was told to go ahead with the proposal.

“He was essentially ignored.In case you have any issues relating to in which and also how to utilize, you are able to contact us in our site. The business, not Mr White, chose to court that risk,” Ms Horvath said.

Mr White is one of several senior managers who have left Star recently, including chief executive Matt Bekier, chief financial officer Harry Theodore, chief legal and risk officer Paula Martin, and chief casino officer Greg Hawkins.

The inquiry continues before Adam Bell SC.

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