Director of Australia's Crown says she felt pressured to sign discredited advert

SYDNEY, Oct 15 (Reuters) - A director of Australian casino giant Crown Resorts Ltd felt pressured last year by its then-chairman to sign a now-discredited full-page newspaper advertisement attacking negative media coverage, she told a regulatory inquiry on Thursday.

Jane Halton, a former top bureaucrat who sits on several company boards and chairs global vaccine advocate Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, said she agreed to her signature appearing in the ad based on internal advice, but that she has since become aware the ad contained false information.

Halton’s evidence came during a government inquiry to decide whether Crown can keep its licence to operate casinos, just two months before it is scheduled to open a A$2.2 billion ($1.57 billion), 75-floor casino tower in Sydney.

The commissioner running the hearings earlier described Crown’s management as “dysfunctional”.

Asked on Thursday by a lawyer at the inquiry, Nicole Sharp, if she felt pressured to sign the statement which called media reports a “deceitful campaign”, Halton said, “Yes, Ms Sharp”.

Asked from whom she felt pressure, Halton said, “Certainly the chairman, I can be confident of that.” Halton also said she felt pressure to sign from some independent directors.

Halton joins a host of high-profile Australian business figures at the top ranks of Crown to testify, including the company’s founder and 37% owner James Packer.

The inquiry was sparked by media reports saying Crown did business with gambling tour, or “junket”, operators suspected of links to organised crime. In Crown’s ad, the board said the company dealt with a single, Hong Kong-listed junket operator.

On Thursday, Halton said she now accepted that Crown actually did business with several junket operators at the time, none of which was listed in Hong Kong.

Asked about the advertisement’s claim that Crown had a “robust” vetting process for tour operators, Halton said, “I accept it was not robust... There was a process that was robust (but) it could have been better.”

Then-chairman John Alexander previously agreed with the inquiry that some claims in the advertisement were untrue.

Reuters could not immediately reach Alexander for comment. Crown did not respond to a request for comment.

The inquiry continues. ($1 = 1.4017 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Christopher Cushing)