Cone of silence: Star’s former chief executive to explain rapid departure

Star Entertainment’s former chief executive accused of fostering exclusion and secrecy at the company will appear before an inquiry into whether the casino should keep its lucrative Sydney licence.

Apr 24, 2024, updated Apr 24, 2024
Robbie Cooke, CEO of Star Entertainment. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Robbie Cooke, CEO of Star Entertainment. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Former chief executive Robbie Cooke stepped down from the position on March 22 and will front the probe on Wednesday.

It is the second inquiry led by Adam Bell SC into the casino’s suitability to hold the licence.

The 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.

The latest inquiry has been told former executives of the casino resigned over disillusionment with the leadership of the business, accusing Mr Cooke of fostering exclusion and secrecy at the company.

Star’s former chief financial officer Christina Katsibouba, who left her position the same day as Mr Cooke, told the inquiry she had felt isolated and was asked to keep company finances from the board.

She told the inquiry Mr Cooke had told her to keep a dire financial situation from the board so as not to “scare” or “impact morale”.

“My view was that we should be fully transparent with them so we could ensure everybody was going in the right direction and the minds in the team could focus on developing a business plan just to address earnings, but we didn’t quite agree on that,” Ms Katsibouba said.

Star’s former chief legal officer Betty Ivanoff said she began considering her resignation just two weeks after she started at the casino.

She told the inquiry she felt “undermined and excluded” by Mr Cooke, who she said would negotiate legal agreements with external law firms before bringing her in part way through and then leaving her out of the loop.

“I did feel that I would be brought in and out of topics at whim by the CEO, which I found quite awkward,” Ms Ivanoff said.

Messages between Mr Cooke and executive chair David Foster discussing “war” with the regulator were also aired at an earlier hearing of the latest inquiry.

The two leaders had also discussed getting rid of the casino’s appointed manager Nicholas Weeks and queried grounds for a shareholder class action against him and the regulator.

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