The question the Crown inquiry hasn’t asked. Where is its missing former chairman?

The ghost of Packer’s one-time most senior lieutenant, Robert Rankin, is increasingly haunting the gripping inquiry into Crown Resorts. Rankin’s fingerprints are everywhere but he has not been called as a witness.

His absence has become the topic du jour. The prospect he may have privately helped the inquiry is a question now increasingly being raised.

During the period investigated by the NSW inquiry, Rankin at various times ran Packer’s private company, Consolidated Press Holding (CPH), and was chairman of Crown Resorts. Put simply – he was in the thick of it.

James Packer with former Crown executive chairman Rob Rankin arriving for the casino operator's annual general meeting in 2015.
James Packer with former Crown executive chairman Rob Rankin arriving for the casino operator’s annual general meeting in 2015. Credit:Patrick Scala

Rankin is constantly referenced during questioning of witnesses, his presence at numerous crucial meetings is recorded, email chains into which he was copied are repeatedly tendered as evidence.


He knows Packer as intimately as any of the loyal lieutenants including Michael Johnston, John Alexander, Barry Felstead and Guy Jalland – all of whom have been called to give evidence before the commission of inquiry.

But it was Rankin who was copied into Packer’s now infamous threatening email to private equity executive Ben Gray in 2015 – an email so frightening that its recipient considered seeking the protection of security guards.

And the inquiry heard the suggestion that it was Rankin who asked Packer to step down from the board shortly after. “You must have had discussions with Mr Rankin about the content of your communications with Mr X [Gray],” counsel assisting Adam Bell asked of Packer.

“And did Mr Rankin suggest to you that you should leave the board of Crown Resorts in December 2015?”

Bell produced no documentary evidence to support this and Packer denied it. But there was no suggestion this was other than a private conversation.

Rankin’s role in what has now been demonstrated as one of the most extraordinary cases of regulatory, compliance and governance failure in many years has left him relatively untarnished.

His actions or inactions have not been placed under the inquiry’s microscope, he has not had to squirm in the witness box, nor been accused of turning a blind eye to money laundering or partnering with junkets links to organised crime while chairman of Crown. He was chairman between August 2015 and January 2017.

In the course of Packer’s two days in the box he not only threw Rankin under the bus but drove over him again and again.

His highly unpleasant falling out with Packer in the months after the 2016 Crown staff arrests in China was obvious enough at the time.

During testimony Packer made it abundantly clear he blamed Rankin for the China arrests. In the course of Packer’s two days in the box he not only threw Rankin under the bus but drove over him again and again.

“He let me down … “he let the side down,” Packer said of Rankin who he considered to be an expert in China.

But it has been the inquiry’s particular preoccupation with the relationship between the two men that has been particularly curious.

Packer was quizzed on when he last communicated with Rankin. According to Packer, it was six months ago when Rankin called him. Packer told the inquiry it was a cordial exchange that involved him congratulating Rankin on one of his investments.

No mention was made of why Rankin had reached out to Packer.

Equally bizarre were questions to Alexander, Jalland and Johnston about their communications with Rankin since he left the company and whether their relationships were friendly.

None of the questions asked to witnesses appeared to be an attempt to incriminate or blame Rankin.

Rankin, a former Deutsche Bank executive, had been hired around the time Packer was embroiled in numerous attempts to restructure his ownership of Crown. Evidence suggests he was intimately involved in discussions with Hellman & Friedman and later TPG about privatisation plans in 2015.

Packer also asked him to scope out what was happening in 2015 after Korean gaming staff were arrested in China after its government crackdown.

Despite being at the centre of so much of what the inquiry is seeking answers on, Rankin is MIA.

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