James Packer is not to blame for the failures of Crown Resorts, his lawyers have told an inquiry examining whether the gaming giant is suitable to run a new $2.2 billion Sydney casino.
The Barangaroo premises, slated to open next month, is under a massive cloud because of the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority probe.
Lawyers representing Mr Packer’s company Consolidated Press Holdings said that after the billionaire stepped down from the board in 2018, he had no real control over the company’s business affairs and was acting only as an interested shareholder and advisor.
Counsel assisting the inquiry argued last week that Mr Packer was a de facto director whose pursuit of profit heavily influenced the company’s poor culture.
The mogul had even greater access to information than Crown’s then-chair, John Alexander, and he issued instructions to executives and directors, they said.
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But CPH’s lawyer, Noel Hutley SC, on Wednesday said Crown chose to seek advice from Mr Packer to maximise profit, and its board was not bound to follow that advice.
The inquiry has heard much evidence about an agreement between Crown and CPH which allowed Mr Packer unusual access to confidential information, including daily earnings reports.
But the agreement was a “two-way street” which gave Crown the benefit of Mr Packer’s insights, Mr Hutley said. There is no evidence those insights caused the company any harm, he added.
Mr Packer had also been criticised for an abusive email he sent a potential investor, which he has previously agreed was “shameful” and “disgraceful” but blamed on his bipolar disorder.
Counsel assisting argued last week that the conduct meant Mr Packer should not be permitted to be a close associate of the new Sydney casino.
Mr Hutley pleaded for inquiry commission Patricia Bergin to treat the matter with compassion, arguing there was no evidence that the behaviour would be repeated.
Indeed, Mr Packer’s admissions in the witness box that he was disquieted by the inquiry’s revelations showed he was a man of “real character, real integrity and real honesty”, Mr Hutley said.
Lawyers for Crown will address the inquiry separately.
The regulator is reportedly set to meet with Crown next Wednesday to discuss whether to push back or put conditions on the casino’s opening.
Lawyers assisting the inquiry have previously argued Crown is not fit to hold the Barangaroo licence due to its poor culture, lack of risk management procedures and links to dodgy junket operators.
Ms Bergin is due to issue a report in February.