Melco Resorts & Entertainment has been told it must hand over legal documents previously deemed to be protected by legal privilege after the NSW state government won its appeal in relation to a public inquiry into Melco’s suitability to hold a state gaming license.
The Asian gaming operator had previously won a legal challenge of its own against the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority in which it argued that the regulator was exceeding its authority in its inquiry into the Asian gaming operator’s acquisition of a 9.99% stake in Crown.
The Supreme Court ruled in February that it was not evident the inquiry was entitled to employ the powers of the NSW Royal Commission Act and that, as such, Melco’s “privileges, including legal professional privilege, are not abrogated for the purposes of the inquiry.”
But that ruling was overturned on Thursday, with the NSW Court of Appeal finding that the Supreme Court judge had erred in her previous judgement.
“The court held that the primary judge erred in concluding that the Royal Commission Act did not confer a ‘power or authority’ on a Commissioner, with that section extending the general power to compel the production of documents to include the power to compel the production of legally privileged documents,” the NSW Court of Appeal found.
The inquiry, launched by the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority in August, is investigating multiple facets of the Melco-Crown deal including Crown’s own suitability to hold a casino license ahead of the upcoming launch of its AU$2.2 billion Crown Sydney at Barangaroo and links to Melco Chairman and CEO Lawrence Ho’s father Stanley Ho – the former Macau casino magnate with whom Crown is prohibited from conducting business as per a 2014 agreement with the regulator.
Melco had originally planned to acquire a 19.99% stake in Crown but recently announced it had cancelled acquisition of the second stake.