Spotlight on Packer company directors ahead of inquiry

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
Packer strikes deal to remove CPH from Crown business

Longstanding lieutenants of James Packer’s family, Guy Jalland and Michael Johnston are expected to be in the spotlight when an inquiry into Crown Resorts’ Sydney casino licence starts this month.

It comes as reclusive billionaire James Packer flew into Sydney on his private jet on Wednesday to inspect his company’s $2.4 billion casino being built at Barangaroo and express his confidence in the project, The Brisbane Times reports.

The high roller casino, six-star hotel and luxury residential development is set to open in the first half of 2021.

An unprecedented New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority public inquiry will start on January 21 and examine issues including whether the casino’s licence was breached when Mr Packer’s private company, Consolidated Press Holdings, sold a 20 per cent stake in Crown to the Hong Kong-based Melco Resorts and Entertainment for $1.76 billion in May.

Crown’s licence bans Melco boss Lawrence Ho’s father, Stanley Ho, and a list of associated individuals and entities from involvement in the casino because of longstanding allegations that Mr Ho – a pioneer of the Macau casino industry – has links to organised crime.

One of the banned companies, Great Respect Limited, is a major Melco shareholder.

Melco disclosed Great Respect as holding a relevant interest in Crown when it lodged an ASX substantial holder notice for its Crown investment in June.

Sources with knowledge of the inquiry said they expected one area of focus to be who may have known about the banned “entities and individuals” list when the sale of Crown shares to Melco was finalised, which would turn attention on figures who straddle both the Crown and CPH camps.

That includes Mr Jalland, who is a Crown director, CPH’s chief executive and has worked for both James and Kerry Packer for more than 20 years; and Mr Johnston, a Crown director and CPH’s finance director.

The full conditions put on Crown’s licence were made public in August.

Packer willing to front ILGA inquiry in Sydney

Mr Packer resigned from the boards of Crown and CPH in 2018 due to mental health issues.

Lawrence Ho has insisted he is independent of his 98-year-old father.

Melco passed Australian probity checks previously when it formed a joint venture in Macau with Crown.

A CPH spokesman said: “CPH respects the confidential processes of the ILGA inquiry and does not intend to pre-empt proceedings or make any comment at this time.”

Crown did not respond.

The ILGA inquiry, led by former NSW Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin, will also examine Crown’s links to other alleged organised crime figures, following allegations that Crown went into business with “junket” tour companies  backed by powerful Asian crime gangs and Chinese foreign influence agents as it tried to lure Asian high-rollers to its Australian casinos.

Before arriving in Sydney last week, Mr Packer told The Australian that Crown Sydney was his top professional goal and would be “something truly spectacular for the city.”

With the ILGA inquiry looming, Mr Packer acknowledged the next 12 months would be “challenging”, with some “issues to be resolved”, and said he would attend the public ILGA inquiry if he was called.

The 52-year-old held 47 per cent of Crown’s shares before the stalled 20 per cent to Melco in May.

A 10 per cent tranche of shares has already changed hands, but a second tranche has been put on hold until the ILGA inquiry is completed.

Melco said it is interested in a full takeover of Crown.

In early 2019, Crown was discussing a $10 billion buyout with US casino giant Wynn Resorts.

The American group ended takeover talks when details leaked to the media.

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