By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian casino billionaire James Packer on Thursday said international tour operators helped Chinese gamblers circumvent Chinese capital controls, and that his company gave incorrect public statements distancing itself from the so-called junkets.

The Crown Resorts Ltd <CWN.AX> founder and one-third owner shared his perception of the travel agents who bring gamblers, often from China, to casinos at an Australian government inquiry. The inquiry is being held to determine whether the company should be allowed to run a A$2.2 billion ($1.6 billion) casino in Sydney’s tallest building.

So far during the inquiry, taking place just two months before the 75-floor tower’s scheduled opening, Packer has agreed that he sold a stake in Crown to Hong Kong’s Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd <MLCO.O> contrary to a ban on doing so.

In his third day testifying, Packer was asked about Crown’s relationships with junket operators after the company placed full-page advertisements last year attacking media reports saying Crown dealt with junkets linked to organised crime.

Asked if he knew China’s government had started limiting the flow of money offshore in 2013, Packer said he did. Asked if he viewed junket operators at the time as able to help Crown customers move money out of China, he said: “Yes I believe so”.

He said he never turned his mind to the possibility that junket operators were involved in money laundering. He said he had heard “rumours” about junkets being linked to organised crime but did not know if they were true.

In the newspaper advertisements, Crown described the media reports as “a deceitful campaign”, and said its only junket was Hong Kong-listed Suncity Group Holdings Ltd <1383.HK>.

The lawyer questioning Packer, Naomi Sharp, told the inquiry that Crown used at least four junkets at the time including one

(Bloomberg) —

James Packer wearing a suit and tie

© Getty Images
James Packer

Crown Resorts Ltd.’s billionaire shareholder James Packer pushed for a tie-up last year between Australia’s biggest casino operator and Hong Kong-based Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd.


Load Error

This was despite prohibitions levied by an Australian regulator against associates of Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho — whose son Lawrence is Melco’s CEO — from owning a stake in Crown.

Packer on Wednesday said that he had “forgotten” about the conditions on Crown’s license to operate a casino in Sydney. Pressed further, Packer conceded it was probable that his mind didn’t turn to the prohibition.

The acknowledgment came during Packer’s second day of testimony in a probe of alleged money-laundering activities at Crown. Among other issues, the inquiry is assessing whether Crown’s Melco links breached terms of its license to operate a casino in Sydney.

Packer and Lawrence Ho briefly considered a full merger between their two companies in April 2019, before agreeing on Melco buying a 20% stake in Crown from Packer’s private investment company, said the Australian billionaire on Thursday. Melco scrapped the investment deal earlier this year, citing the impact of the coronavirus, though the transaction was already in doubt after it was sucked into the regulatory probe.

Stanley Ho, who faced allegations of being connected to organized crime, died in May. Dozens of entities and individuals deemed associates of his were barred by the New South Wales casino regulator from owning an interest in Crown, directly or indirectly.

Read More: Billionaire Packer Acknowledges ‘Shameful’ Email Threat

Packer’s testimony, which continues on Thursday, forms part of a probe being overseen by retired Supreme Court Judge Patricia Bergin that was set up last year following media reports gangs laundered money at Crown’s casinos, and the company used junket operators with links to

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian billionaire James Packer said on Wednesday he “forgot” his casino firm Crown Resorts Ltd

was banned from dealing with associates of Hong Kong’s Stanley Ho when he orchestrated a part-buyout by a firm controlled by Ho’s son.

Packer’s actions as Crown’s largest shareholder are being scrutinised as the New South Wales state government holds an inquiry to decide if the company should be allowed to go ahead with its A$2.2 billion ($1.6 billion) casino tower in Sydney just months before its scheduled opening.

Under questioning, Packer acknowledged the company he founded agreed not to give Hong Kong casino magnate Ho or his associates any beneficial interest in Crown Resorts when it obtained clearance in 2014 to build the 75-floor tower.

However, Packer announced a sale last year of one-fifth of Crown to Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd

, a company run by Ho’s son Lawrence. On Wednesday, Packer said he assumed his lawyers would pick up any legal issues.

“I forgot, Mr Bell,” Packer told the lawyer leading the inquiry, Adam Bell. “I thought the legal work that the CPH team … were preparing would cover all eventualities,” he said, referring to his private company Consolidated Press Holdings.

Ho, who died in May aged 98, was banned from any involvement in Australian casinos amid widespread reports alleging links to organised crime, which he denied.

Melco ultimately bought half of the 20% Crown stake Packer had put up for sale – and subsequently sold it – and cancelled plans to buy the other half.

Packer’s evidence also covered a period when 16 staff were jailed in China in 2016 for violating anti-gambling laws, prompting an exit from foreign markets, while Packer himself stepped back from public view for personal reasons.

Testifying via videolink, Packer acknowledged requesting frequent

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian casino billionaire James Packer on Tuesday acknowledged sending threatening emails in 2015 to an unnamed person with whom he was working on taking Crown Resorts Ltd

private while a director at the company he created.

During questioning by a government inquiry, Packer blamed his “medical state” for the threats which he agreed were “shameful” and “disgraceful”. Packer, who confirmed on Tuesday that he has bipolar disorder after revealing previously he had mental health problems, said he should have told shareholders about his personal issues instead of keeping them secret.

“I think my medical state is what it reflected most on,” Packer said of the emails to the person. Packer, who quit the Crown board weeks later without disclosing medical issues, no longer works at the company but retains 37% of Crown, a stake worth A$2.2 billion ($1.57 billion).

One of Australia’s wealthiest people, Packer shuns public attention beyond staged photo opportunities or prepared statements. Packer testified via videolink in a jacket and tie from an undisclosed location, reported by Australian media to be on board a yacht in the South Pacific.

The government inquiry comes as the New South Wales state casino regulator considers whether Crown should be allowed to proceed with plans to run a 75-floor, A$2.2 billion ($1.6 billion) casino tower in Sydney, just months before its scheduled opening.

The risk of the company losing its licence grew last year following media reports, denied by the company, that Crown hired tour operators linked to organised crime to bring wealthy foreign gamblers, largely from China.

Packer denied knowing that Crown staff set up informal offices in residential locations in Guangzhou, China, where advertising gambling is illegal, to avoid detection. In 2016, 16 Crown staff were jailed in China for violating anti-gambling laws. [D-REUTERSNEWS-T004/Ie4b85a305a2b11e79b7692983d739d5a]

“I believe