High-stakes games can be real torture

Call it the plane of pain. These days, it's a luxury private jet, ferrying high-rollers back and forth between Asia's capitals and Crown's Australian casinos.

Call it the plane of pain. These days, it's a luxury private jet, ferrying high-rollers back and forth between Asia's capitals and Crown's Australian casinos.

While some might say the business of landing Asian whales on Australian shores is a little murky, VH-CCC, one of three Gulfstreams owned by James "Slim Jim" Packer's Crown Limited may have a far darker past.

According to data compiled by plane-spotters at website airframes.org, VH-CCC may be one of the planes used by the CIA for so-called "rendition" flights of terror suspects in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

The controversial program allegedly involved kidnapping suspects, some of whom were then handed over to torturers.

While Crown no doubt treats its high-rollers to nothing but the best as they carve through the sky from Macau, Hong Kong or Jakarta, conditions on board the CIA's flights were not quite so Mahogany Room.

In one case involving VH-CCC, reported by The Guardian in 2005, two Egyptian men seized in Sweden allegedly had suppositories inserted into their anuses before being wrapped in plastic nappies and put on the plane, which flew them to Egypt for torture.

Before delivery to Crown in 2007, VH-CCC was known as N126CH, according to airframes.org data. And before that it worked through a string of rego numbers, including N379P - the number under which Guardian journalists tracked its movements.

with Lucy Battersby

SKYShades saga

The failed SKYShades business backed by Brisbane Broncos founder Barry Maranta and golfer Greg Norman committed "severe" breaches of the franchise code, according to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission staff.

ACCC staff also alleged that SKYShades' behaviour "may cause significant financial loss" to investors who had signed up to distribute the company's shade cloth. So far, investors have lost millions.

But the ACCC's enforcement committee decided to drop the investigation on July 12 last year - the same day it was advised that creditors had taken court action to close down two SKYShades companies.

"They worked out after 12 months it was all crap," Maranta told CBD.

Details of the investigation into SKYShades are revealed in internal ACCC documents, released to distributor Aaron Ycas under freedom of information laws.

Ycas sunk $33,000 into SKYShades in 2010 after attending an information session in Newcastle hosted by Maranta's business partner Ric Hayter and featuring a life-sized cutout of Norman.

Norman may regret getting involved: SKYShades' US arm went broke in mid-2010, owing the Great White Shark $145,000 in unpaid endorsement fees.

The ACCC documents show it first received complaints about SKYShades in January 2011.

Investigators believed SKYShades could be selling franchises, something the company denied.

"The breach of the code was assessed by the small business and fair trading group to be severe due to the fact that none of the code provisions was complied with," ACCC staff said. "This is most likely to SKYShades regarding the arrangement as a distributorship and therefore outside the code."

Maranta said it was "exactly right" that SKYShades didn't regard the deals as franchises.

"We didn't want a franchise, we wanted tradespeople," he told CBD.

The ACCC eventually decided "not to investigate the matter further", New South Wales general manager of enforcement Geoff Williams told Ycas in an August 6 letter.

"It's as though no one wants to do anything - it all seems too hard," Ycas told CBD.

"We'll just keep plugging away and keep the pressure up."

Activists act

Is this the shareholder activist organisation so angry with chief executives it can't bear to have one of its own?

After two years in the job, Australian Shareholders Association CEO Vas Kolesnikoff is to step down at the end of May, and won't be replaced. Instead, a national operations manager and a research manager will report directly to the board.

While insisting the split was amicable, Kolesnikoff also told AAP: "There are just insufficient staff to do the job and there's just no support."

Also on the way out is consultant and professional loudmouth Stephen Mayne, whose contract finishes about the same time. He's got a new gig as City of Melbourne councillor.

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