Australian billionaire and a major shareholder of the Crown Group, James Packer, stated he would sell his shares, as per an order issued by Victoria’s royal commission.
The recommendation for such a move came from commissioner Ray Finkelstein, who suggested that by the end of September 2024, Mr Packer’s firm, Consolidated Press Holdings, should reduce the shares in the Crown Group from 37% to 5%.
Mr Packer stated he wouldn’t argue with the commissioner or object to the decision to sell his Crown Group shares. However, he did protest against the actual date when the decision should be put into practice. According to Mr Packer, an order from New South Wales set the deadline to 2026 and decided to let his legal counsel sort out the details.
The Crown Group has been called out in three Australian states where its casinos are located because of money laundering operations discovered by respective royal commissions. The illegal actions apparently took place during the many years of James Packer overseeing the Crown Perth board. Packer acknowledged his faults on this account.
Nevertheless, even though he admitted to the mistakes made while he chaired Crown Resorts and Burswood Limited, he had an explanation for all of it happening on his watch. Namely, while questioned about the matter, Mr Packer stated that his selection of employees wasn’t up to standards since he had no directors specialising in anti-money laundering.
In essence, he now thinks that senior executives left Crown Perth to govern itself and should have been replaced with expert independent directors. Yet, John Poynton, the Burswood board former chair and director, provided evidence about his duties regarding Crown Perth, claiming he had no power to give orders about the Perth casino operations. Instead, he acted as a casino ambassador, while all the important decisions came from the top of the pyramid.
The billionaire said he is aware of the misses and that he should have done things differently. But, he still sticks to the initial statement that he knew nothing about money laundering at the time.
The moment Mr Packer allegedly became aware of suspicious actions within the Crown Group was when 19 staff members got arrested in China in 2016 for the illegal promotion of gambling. Also, he believes that all the money laundering activities and the board lapses resulted from his absence as a chairman at critical moments.
During his questioning about these unfortunate events, Mr Packer admitted that there could have been a misunderstanding when it came to directors’ duties, as well as that he himself could have been more aware of what was going on in the company.
Then again, at the hearing, Mr Packer took a lot of time to respond to simple questions and asked for many of them to be repeated. Also, in his witness statement, the billionaire referred to health issues from 2016 and strong medication as a potential influence of his memory loss related to those past events.