On Thursday, James Packer denied claims he was on friendly terms with any junket operators. He added that he met with them only “rarely” in his former capacity as chairman of Crown Resorts. The billionaire gave evidence for a third and final day to a regulatory inquiry which will ultimately decide whether Crown is suitable to keep its Sydney casino license.
Packer acknowledged that he may have to cut his stake in Crown Resorts for it to keep its license. He is currently the biggest shareholder with 36 percent.
The license, and the viability of the $2 billion Crown Sydney set to open later this year, has been jeopardized by reports that Crown turned a blind eye to triad elements within its junket partners and allowed itself to be used as a money laundering conduit by high-rolling criminals.
Junket Operator Meetings in Question
Packer spoke via video link from his yacht somewhere in the South Pacific. He was asked why he had met in 2015 with Alvin Chau, CEO of Macau-based Suncity, the biggest junket operator in the world.
It has been reported in Australian media that Chau is banned from entering the country because authorities believe he is linked to “large-scale money-laundering activities” and is – or, at least was – a member of the 14K triads.
Packer recalled he also met another junket operator around the same time, Song Zezhai, who allegedly ran a violent organized crime gang, according to Chinese authorities. The purpose of the meetings was to thank the men for their business, Packer said.
I do not and never had intimate relations with junket operators or junkets, and I had nothing to do with management of those junkets,” he claimed.
He also denied that he orchestrated the company’s VIP strategy between 2012 and 2015, when he was Crown chairman, but conceded he may have contributed to the strategy “marginally.”
He said he was assured that the junkets Crown was dealing with were of “good repute,” but conceded, when pushed, that there was a link between junket operators and organized crime. He also agreed that casinos were at risk of infiltration by organized crime.
Mr. X Unmasked
Previously, the inquiry heard that Packer had not been aware that Crown staff were living in fear in China prior to their arrest and imprisonment in 2016 for marketing Crown’s services to Chinese citizens.
Packer has also claimed that strong medication he was taking for his bipolar disorder had impacted his memory of certain events over the past few years. But earlier this week, he remembered sending a threatening email to an unnamed private equity boss, referred to only as Mr. X, who was considering a privatization deal with Crown in 2015.
Australian media has since revealed Mr. X was Ben Gray, who was head of Asia and Australia for TPG Capital at the time.
The exact nature of the threat has not been disclosed, but The Australian reports “chatter” that Packer warned Gray that he would set his friend Yossi Cohen, the head of Mossad, on him.
Gray took the threats seriously enough to hire some Australian ex-soldiers to beef up security around his house, insisted The Australian.