- Inquiry is investigating probity issues at casino giant Crown Resorts
- Commissioner Patricia Bergin will report on whether Crown is fit to keep the licence for its new casino at Sydney’s Barangaroo
- James Packer, who owns 36 per cent of Crown, was called to give evidence about his involvement in the business.
- Issues raised at the inquiry include Crown going into business with figures linked organised crime, money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos, and the arrest of 19 staff in China in 2016
And here’s a take on today’s hearing from The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Private Sydney columnist, the inimitable Andrew Hornery:
A slightly sweaty upper lip was the only clue as to the possible emotions swirling through casino mogul James Packer’s mind as he was grilled during Tuesday’s NSW casino inquiry which veered into some of the most sensitive areas of his private and public lives.
Mr Packer, 53, told the inquiry he had been diagnosed and was being treated for “bipolar disorder”, using the past tense in an attempt to explain his previous “shameful” conduct, offering: “I was sick at the time.”
Read more from Andrew here.
Here’s the full exchange from what was an unexpected and astounding revelation from today’s hearing, about how Packer sent threatening emails into a businessman known only as “Mr X” in 2015 in relation to attempts to privatise the casino group. The inquiry did not make the content of the emails public. But here’s what followed:
Counsel assisting Adam Bell: You accept you were making threats against Mr X in these emails?
James Packer: Yes.
Bell: And you understood Mr X might be put in fear by those threats?
Packer: No, that came as a surprise to me.
Bell: You accept your conduct in these emails was shameful, do you?
Packer: I do.
Bell: And you were a director of Crown Resorts when you wrote these emails weren’t you?
Packer: I can’t recall.
Bell: You accept that your conduct in these emails was disgraceful don’t you?
Bell: And you didn’t resign as a director of Crown Resorts until about the 21st of December 2015, some weeks after these emails. So you were a director of Crown Resorts at the time you engaged in this disgraceful behaviour?
Bell: And you understood at the time of these emails you have an obligation to Crown Resorts to act ethically and with the highest standards of integrity, correct?
Bell: At the time of these emails you understood you had an obligation not to bring discredit on Crown Resorts?
Packer: I’d clearly forgotten that.
Bell: You accept that your conduct in these emails reflect adversely on your character, don’t you?
Packer: I think my medical state is what it reflected most on.
Bell: How can the NSW regulator have any confidence in your character or integrity in light of your communications in these emails?
Packer: Because I’m being treated now for my bi-polar.
Bell: How can the nsw regulator have any confidence in your character or integrity in light of your communications in these emails?
Packer: Because I was sick at the time.
Packer had earlier told the inquiry he stood down from Crown’s board in December 2015 because of his mental illness, but he couldn’t recall if he told his fellow director this was the reason.
Bell asked Packer about Crown’s December 21 2015 ASX statement announcing he was stepping down as a director, which quoted Packer as saying: “Now is the right time for me to focus my endeavours on my new role with Crown as I outlined to shareholders when I stepped aside in August. I intend to devote my energies to a number of key development programs in Sydney, Melbourne and Las Vegas.”
Bell: There’s no reference in your quoted comments to you resigning because you’re unwell, is there?
Bell: Plainly you didn’t regard it to be truthful to the shareholders of Crown Resorts for your real reasons for resigning, would you agree?
Packer: I’d hoped it would stay a private matter.
Bell: And plainly you weren’t truthful to the shareholders of Crown Resorts about the real reason you were resigning, do you agree?
Packer: There should have been something mentioned in the release ,I agree.
Here’s a piece by our gun reporters Nick McKenzie and Patrick Hatch wrapping up proceedings:
Billionaire James Packer threatened an unnamed businessman in a series of emails in 2015 that also referred to Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, he has admitted to the inquiry into Crown’s NSW licence.
Mr Packer told the inquiry it “came as a surprise” to him that the businessman, whose name has been suppressed, might have been put in fear by the threat. But under questioning he agreed the emails were “shameful” and “disgraceful”.
He said he had been mentally ill at the time with bipolar disorder.
Read more here.
And that’s a wrap for today.
But before they let Mr Packer go he was asked about Crown’s unofficial office in Guangzhou in China. The inquiry heard the office was in a semi-residential building and often attracted the attention of authorities.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Adam Bell told Mr Packer that former Crown chief executive Rowan Craigie had told the inquiry it was an attempt to disguise Crown was operating in China.
Mr Bell asks Mr Packer if he was aware of Mr Craigie’s claim.
Mr Packer: “I’m aware Mr Craigie gave that evidence, yes.”
Mr Bell: And (former Crown executive chairman John) Mr Alexander has given evidence that this unofficial office in Guangzhou was not authorised by him either.
Mr Packer: Yes.
Mr Packer told the inquiry that he did not authorise the unofficial office either.
He was then asked by Mr Bell about whether this was a fundamental failure on his and Crown’s part to act ethically and with integrity given it was in clear breach of Chinese laws for the company to operate an unlicensed business in China.
Mr Packer responded: “It’s a significant failure.”
His response led Commissioner Patricia Bergin to add her own question to Mr Packer.
“It’s more than that, isn’t it Mr Packer? Mr Bell has asked you about the ethical conduct of the company.”
Mr Packer responded: “Madam Commissioner I accept it’s a serious failure.”
The hearing ended on that concession by Mr Packer.
The inquiry has now moved onto Crown’s strategy in China, but let’s just reflect on the bombshell we just learnt.
In 2015 Packer was exploring a privatisation of Crown and was talking to a potential buyer, a private equity firm the inquiry referred to only as “Z Co”, and its representatives “Mr X” and “Mr Y”.
We heard that Packer sent an emailed threat to Mr X around this time. The content of the email was suppressed by the inquiry.
But under questioning Packer agreed the emailed threat was “shameful” and “disgraceful”.
Counsel assisting Adam Bell asked Packer: “How can the NSW [gambling] regulator have any confidence in your character and integrity in light of these emails?”
Packer responded: “Because I was sick at the time”. He then said he was being treated for bi-polar disorder.
The significance of this is that the inquiry appears to be looking at whether Packer should be allowed to be a “close associate” of Crown.
If the inquiry says he can’t be, then he may be forced to sell down his shareholding in Crown its current 36 per cent to less than 10 per cent.
It appears the inquiry is looking at this threat Mr Packer made to this Mr X as the part of a consideration of whether Packer should be allowed to be a “close associate” of Crown.
If the inquiry says he can’t be, then he may be forced to sell down his shareholding for its current 36 per cent to less than 10 per cent.
Here’s more of counsel assisting Andrew Bell, SC, questioning of Mr Packer:
Mr Bell: How can the nsw regulator have any confidence in your character and integrity in light of these emails?
Mr Packer: Because I was sick at the time.
Mr Bell: You say you resigned from Crown Resorts because you were sick at the time?
Mr Packer: Yes
Mr Bell: A did you disclose that to your colleagues on the board of Crown Resorts?
Mr Packer: I can’t recall.
We know now why these emails were so sensitive: it appears Mr Packer sent a threat to the mysterious Mr X.
Here’s the transcript:
Adam Bell, counsel assisting: You accept you were making threat against Mr X in these emails?
James Packer: Yes.
Mr Bell: And you understood Mr X might be put in fear by those threats?
Mr Packer: No that came as a surprise to me
Mr Bell: Do you accept your conduct in these emails was shameful?
Mr Packer: I do.
Mr Bell: And you were a director of Crown Resorts when you wrote these emails were you?
Mr Packer: I can’t recall
Mr Bell: You accept your conduct in these emails was disgraceful don’t you?
Mr Packer: Yes.
The live feed of the inquiry’s hearing briefly was back live for public viewing, but only for a minute.
The legal teams are now taking a five to ten minute break and then we’ll be back on and hopefully find out about Mr Packer’s emails and dealings with privatisation offers and Israeli billionaire Arnon Milchan
This delay in public proceedings is frustrating for those wanting to keep track. But it’s common for inquiry hearings to be closed for a short period of time to discuss legal points.
(Though there was little in camera evidence during the banking royal commission, despite banks having rafts of confidential information presented to the commission.)
Mr Packer and his legal team have the legal right to challenge whether these 13 sensitive emails are entered as evidence by the inquiry.
Of course, he wrote them at a time of his life when he was in a state of “deep personal crisis” the inquiry has already heard.
But whether that is enough of an argument to sway former judge Patricia Bergin, who is overseeing the inquiry, from keeping the emails out of evidence is anyone’s guess at this point.
We’re still in a closed hearing while counsel assisting the inquiry and lawyers for James Packer discuss whether these 13 highly sensitive emails will be made public.
Mr Packer’s legal team would like them to stay private and, of course, the Inquiry has other ideas. These seem like some particularly juicy emails.
Given the hearing is expected to close for the day at 4pm, time is ticking here.
But don’t worry Packer fans, we have a feeling the casino mogul will be back on Wednesday to answer more questions.
Source: Thanks smh.com