SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian billionaire James Packer said Wednesday he “forgot” his casino company Crown Resorts Ltd CWN.AX was banned from dealing with Hong Kong’s Stanley Ho associates when he orchestrated a partial purchase from a company controlled by Ho’s son.
Packer’s shares as Crown’s largest shareholder were scrutinized as the New South Wales state government launched an investigation to decide whether the company should be allowed to move forward with its $ 2.2 billion casino tower. Australians ($ 1.6 billion) in Sydney a few months before its scheduled opening.
When questioned, Packer admitted that the company he founded agreed not to grant Hong Kong casino mogul Ho or his associates any beneficial interest in Crown Resorts when it obtained clearance in 2014 to build the 75-story tower.
However, Packer announced the sale of a fifth of Crown to Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd last year MLCO.O, a company run by Ho Lawrence’s son. On Wednesday, Packer said he assumed his lawyers would raise any legal issues.
“I forgot, Mr. Bell,” Packer told the attorney leading the investigation, Adam Bell. “I thought the legal work that the CPH team … was preparing would cover all eventualities,” he said, referring to his private firm Consolidated Press Holdings.
Ho, who died in May at the age of 98, was banned from any involvement in Australian casinos amid widespread reports alleging links to organized crime, which he denied.
Eventually Melco bought half of the 20% stake Packer had put up for sale from Crown, and subsequently sold it, canceling plans to purchase the other half.
Packer’s trials also covered a period in which 16 employees were jailed in China in 2016 for violating anti-gambling laws, resulting in an exit from overseas markets, while Packer himself retired from sight of the public for personal reasons.
Testifying via videolink, Packer admitted that he requested frequent trading updates at least from November 2018 to February 2019 and issued orders to manage Crown despite having held no board or operational role since March 2018.
In a 2019 email read by the investigation, in the months leading up to the announcement of the sale of Melco, Packer wrote to then chief financial officer Ken Barton, “You’ve had your head in the sands this year. Make sure, for your own good, that you reach the plan for the financial year 2020 ”.
Packer denied that email was a threat and said, as a major shareholder, “I felt like I could communicate the way I did.”
“I believed I was fully aligned with Crown Resorts shareholders and that my requests were in the best interest of all shareholders.”
In a November 2018 email to then Crown President John Alexander reading the investigation, Packer gave Alexander permission to cut costs and wrote, “I stopped being Captain Good to everyone. Get busy, you have my blessing. “
Packer continues to provide evidence on Thursday.
Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Christopher Cushing