Close Packer friend faces royal commission grilling

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
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The West Australian royal commission into Crown Resorts has heard that billionaire Tim Roberts has rejected suggestions he became involved in running Crown Perth out of his friendship with James Packer.

The Australian Financial Review reports that Mr Roberts told the royal commission that the pair were friends and confirmed he attended Mr Packer’s wedding to Erica Packer in 2007.

Under questioning from counsel assisting the royal commission, Mr Roberts denied their friendship was behind his decision to join the board of Crown subsidiary Burswood Limited in 2005, a directorship he held until 2019.

Mr Roberts, whose late father John Roberts founded the Multiplex construction company, now owned by Brookfield, said he had been attracted to join the board by plans to expand the casino then controlled by Mr Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited.

“I was interested in the vision of what I understood from the shareholder in respect of the expansion of the facilities. My sphere of expertise was around helping in development and construction,” he said.

“Secondly, it was a very iconic facility and I was interested in the business.”

Royal commission delves into Burswood Limited

The royal commission has spent most of this week drilling down into what role Burswood Limited played in the running and oversight of Crown Perth, with long-time board member John Poynton and 2019 appointee Maryna Fewster offering vastly different views on how they saw its responsibilities.

The royal commission is yet to reveal if it intends to call Mr Packer, the inaugural chairman of Burswood Limited, who still controls 37 per cent of Crown Resorts or former Crown director John Alexander, who also chaired Burswood Limited.

However, comments from royal commissioner Neville Owen suggest they will be called to appear.

Mr Owen declared he had a “close personal relationship” with Perth billionaire Kerry Stokes, who is in turn close to both Mr Packer and Mr Alexander.

Ahead of Ms Fewster, the boss of Mr Stokes’ Seven West Media in WA, giving evidence, Mr Owen said: “In the interests of transparency and in relation to three witnesses who will be called in the coming days or weeks, I want to make a personal statement.

“None of this raises in my mind a conflict of interest, but in the interests of transparency I make these statements.

“One of the witnesses who will appear is Maryna Fewster. She is the chief executive officer of Seven West Media and is responsible to the board, Seven West Media Ltd.

“I have a close personal association with the chairman of the board to whom she reports.”

Perth casino’s money laundering claims examined

Mr Alexander is a long-standing member of the Seven West Media board and served as a key figure in the Packer empire before stepping down as Crown Resorts chairman in January 2020.

Mr Stokes supported Mr Packer through his mental health battles in 2016 and briefly took control of Mr Packer’s personal affairs, including matters regarding his private company Consolidated Press Holdings and his relationship with then fiancee Mariah Carey.

Both Mr Packer and Mr Alexander gave evidence to the Bergin inquiry in NSW that sparked an exodus of Crown Resorts board members seen to have links to Mr Packer, including Mr Poynton.

They were not called before the Victorian royal commission into Crown Resorts headed by Ray Finkelstein, QC.

Ms Fewster’s evidence to the Perth royal commission stoked the fires around a potential break-up of Crown Resorts assets.

She suggested Crown Perth would be best run by a board of independent, WA-based directors.

Mr Roberts, who moved from Perth to New Zealand in 2019, said he was unfamiliar with any of the content of the Bergin report, including findings about the Perth casino being used to facilitate money laundering.

He said there was nothing in his 14 years as a director of Burswood Limited to indicate any weakness in governance and risk management.

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