James Packer fronts government inquiry
Crown Resorts’ majority shareholder James Packer has finally fronted the New South Wales public inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence in the state.
Brisbane Times reports 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.”
Mr Packer gave nothing away during the grilling, despite the incredibly high stakes at play, which could potentially end his multibillion-dollar dream of opening the glittering new casino that now towers over Sydney.
Clean-shaven and fuller-faced, Mr Packer sported a crew cut and wore a black business suit, white shirt and red checked tie for his appearance, which was beamed from a nondescript room on board his $200 million luxury superyacht IJE.
His attire was in contrast to the relaxed tracksuits and bath robes he has previously worn on the high seas, where he is regularly joined by a cast of bikini-clad models and business associates.
His high-tech and luxurious ship, one of the largest privately owned superyachts in the world, has spent the past three weeks cruising around the tropical islands of Bora Bora, French Polynesia and the South Pacific.
But on Tuesday, Mr Packer appeared expressionless, neither happy nor sad, as he offered brief, monotone and perfunctory responses to a variety of questions as the subject matter veered into increasingly sensitive terrain.
Often he would simply answer: “I do not recall”.
Packer’s focus and considered answers noted
His heavily hooded and slow-moving eyes regularly focused into the foreground, seemingly on nothing, for extended periods.
On occasion, he appeared to look slightly off-camera as he paused to consider his next response.
As the questioning became more loaded, his benign demeanour remained unchanged, whether it was about Crown staff landing in a Chinese prison, sending associates threatening emails, his friendship to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu or links to the Israeli secret service.
Even when he was asked seemingly straightforward questions, such as to describe his occupation, he paused to consider his response, before offering: “businessman”.
Mr Packer confirmed that he suffered from a compromised recollection of key events in recent years thanks to “strong medication”, which he is still being prescribed, following his bipolar diagnosis, which resulted in his withdrawal from business life more than two years ago.
The billionaire checked himself into a psychiatric hospital in Boston just days after resigning from the Crown board in March 2018.
Indeed the most expressive he appeared was when he revealed he had not read the explosive biography The Price of Fortune, The Untold Story of Being James Packer by business journalist Damon Kitney, for which the casino mogul gave the author unprecedented access.
Mr Packer, raising his eyebrows and his voice, told the inquiry: “I didn’t really read it cover to cover, I skimmed through it.”
It was a different performance than the one given by his father, the late Kerry Packer, when in 1991 he was questioned before the parliamentary print media inquiry in Canberra.
Australia’s then richest man opened his evidence with belligerence: “Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer. I appeared here this afternoon reluctantly.”
Mr Packer senior went on to interrupt committee members. He banged on the table and then asked why he had not been offered a cup of tea, observing one of the committee members was enjoying a brew.
Kerry Packer walked out of the hearing something of a national hero when he questioned how well the government spent tax.
It remains to be seen how his son will be viewed.