Financial fakery, toxic culture raised at Star inquiry

Whistleblower allegations that Star casino's boardroom leaders adopted a "fight-back stance" to regulators are being investigated, while an inquiry has been told an executive was urged to fluff company figures.

The Star Entertainment Group is facing a second probe, led by Adam Bell SC, into its suitability to run the key Sydney facility after concerns were raised the company was not proactively implementing reforms.

An initial investigation, also led by Mr Bell, found Star unfit to hold a casino licence following revelations of a notorious gang-linked junket operator running an illicit cage within a premium gaming room and Chinese debit-card transactions being disguised as hotel expenses.

STAR CASINO SYDNEY
The Star Entertainment Group is facing a second inquiry.

Casino operations were handed to regulator-appointed manager Nicholas Weeks to ensure it could continue trading when its licence was suspended in 2022 after the first inquiry.

Anonymous and unsubstantiated allegations were put to Mr Weeks, who fronted the inquiry on Tuesday.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Caspar Condie detailed a whistleblower complaint made on February 28 that the entire board seemed "largely unconcerned" about the second Bell review and took a "fightback stance".

Secret emails disclosed on Monday indicated Star's former chief executive Robbie Cooke and chair David Foster had plotted "going to war" with the regulator. 

Mr Weeks said he saw some "parallels" between the whistleblower allegations and the emails.

The anonymous complaint also claimed it was widely agreed the culture within the organisation was toxic.

But Mr Weeks disagreed there were widespread issues across the company.

"I am aware of areas that need reform and aren't operating at a level that the company or regulators would want, but I wouldn't use the language 'toxic' in terms of the broader organisation's culture," he said.

The whistleblower complaint has been referred to an external law firm and the investigation remains ongoing.

The matters are yet to be put to Mr Cooke, who remains a consultant for Star.

STAR CASINO SYDNEY
Star's share price took a beating on Tuesday, falling more than 14 per cent.

Star's former chief financial officer Christina Katsibouba also fronted the inquiry on Tuesday detailing the company's dire situation and confirmed an executive encouraged her to make the company's finances look better.

Ms Katsibouba worked at the company for nine years and assumed the executive role following the first Bell inquiry in 2022, before resigning in March.

She told the inquiry of the significant earnings deterioration from increased controls, new competition from Crown in Sydney and the volatile economic environment post COVID.

Following revelations that the company lost more than $3.2 million from a casino error that allowed guests to repeatedly claim cash prizes fraudulently in mid 2023, Ms Katsibouba said Star's General Manager of Investor Relation Giovanni Rizzo suggested she record that loss later in the year.

"In November and December, earnings were not quite the run rate of the earlier months and if this amount was ... presented as being in those months that would appear it would have been an otherwise good month," Ms Katsibouba said.

The former finance executive said Star's former boss was aware of the proposal but did not speak against the idea.

The losses were eventually recorded against the correct months after Ms Katsibouba sought assistance from third-party auditors.

After the second Bell inquiry was announced into The Star, Ms Katsibouba said there was a fair degree of concern among the board members.

"By the end of the day, there was a fair amount of discussion about some of the options available," she said.

"One of them was potentially to try and stop the inquiry, but that was a comment amongst other discussion about how to address what was now going to be a very difficult process."

Star's share price fell more than 14 per cent on Tuesday.

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