Packer's influence over Crown 'extinct'

Billionaire James Packer has sought to distance himself from issues at Crown’s Perth casino as a West Australian royal commission winds down.

In a closing submission to the inquiry on Wednesday, Mr Packer’s lawyer Noel Hutley SC said the business heavyweight no longer played any role in Crown’s operations despite his company Consolidated Press Holdings being its major shareholder.

Any influence he did once have had “ceased permanently”, Mr Hatley told the inquiry which is looking into whether Crown should retain its Perth casino licence.

“It is extinct, not merely dormant,” he said.

“Not only are we irrelevant to the current suitability inquiry, there is no reasonable prospect we could ever again become relevant.”

Mr Packer stepped down as a director of Crown Resorts in 2018, citing mental health reasons.

Between 2004 and 2016, he chaired Burswood Limited – a subsidiary of Crown primarily responsible for the running of the Perth casino.

In evidence to the WA royal commission last year, Mr Packer revealed he had not attended any Burswood Ltd board meetings during a three-year period from mid-2013, when he moved overseas, until 2016 when he finally resigned.

He continued to attend Crown meetings during that time, later conceding there were “many oversights” during his time in the Perth casino role.

“There is no doubt I should have attended or resigned … I did neither,” he said.

The WA inquiry is investigating whether lax government oversight contributed to issues including money laundering and problem gambling at Crown Perth.

Former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein QC last year condemned Crown’s “illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative” behaviour but allowed the company to keep its Melbourne casino licence.

Mr Finkelstein found CPH should be forced to slash its stake in Crown from 37 per cent to less than five per cent by September 2024.

In his evidence to the WA inquiry, Mr Packer said he did not object to the recommendation.

But his lawyer on Wednesday struck a different tone, saying the WA inquiry should not follow Mr Finkelstein’s lead because the finding was “fundamentally flawed”.

“The recommendation could only be justified as some form of punishment, which is wholly inappropriate,” Mr Hutley said.

In its final submission to the inquiry, Crown argued it had turned a new leaf and Sports betting should not be punished for past mistakes.

Crown’s lawyer Kanaga Dharmananda SC said the company had made significant changes including overhauling its board and executive team after being subject to three “scorching public inquiries” over the past two years.

He said an independent monitor was not needed in WA because equivalent bodies already existed in NSW and Victoria which would inevitably cover Perth.

The WA inquiry has heard state regulators opted not to investigate allegations of money laundering against Crown after the company’s “persuasive” former legal boss told them it was a media beat-up.

The royal commission has now concluded its public hearings ahead of the final report being delivered to the state government next month.

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