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Tech & Science Billionaire Packer’s Casino in Spotlight as Triad Claims Probed

09:25  24 february  2020
09:25  24 february  2020 Source:   msn.com

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Crown Resorts Ltd. billionaire James Packer has endured blow upon blow for more than three years: a bruising clash with Chinese authorities and at least two The investigation in Sydney will thrust Packer into the spotlight and likely subject him to forensic scrutiny. He’ s on a list of witnesses to be called

and former business partner, Hong Kong casino billionaire Lawrence Ho, for about .75bn. But Ho, who is now 97, has also been plagued by accusations of links to China’s triad organised to 2004 when Packer ’ s father, Kerry, got into business with Melco and Stanley Ho to develop casinos in the

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Crown Resorts Ltd. billionaire James Packer has endured blow upon blow for more than three years: a bruising clash with Chinese authorities and at least two aborted deals with suitors.

Now the 52-year-old faces another potential ordeal.

The first set of public hearings starts Monday to consider media reports that Crown used agents linked to drug gangs, human traffickers and money launderers to attract wealthy Chinese gamblers to its casinos.

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Ms Jiang claims Crown not only fast-tracked the visas of international gamblers, but sought to cover up an illegal gambling promotion operation across mainland China. 'Being a triad member is a huge red light to me. Australian Billionaire James Packer owns a 36 per cent stake in Crown - though is in

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 26: James Packer of Crown Resorts arrives to attend the Crown Resorts annual general meeting on October 26, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. The AGM comes just a week after Independent MP Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege to accuse Crown of misconduct, including allegations of allege of tampering with gaming machines to increase profits © (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images) MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 26: James Packer of Crown Resorts arrives to attend the Crown Resorts annual general meeting on October 26, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. The AGM comes just a week after Independent MP Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege to accuse Crown of misconduct, including allegations of allege of tampering with gaming machines to increase profits

Ultimately, the probe will assess if Crown should keep its license to run an A$2.2 billion ($1.5 billion) Sydney harborside gaming development that Packer has championed for almost a decade. His 37% stake in Crown, a company with a market value of A$8 billion, is his single-biggest investment.

With that centrepiece resort due to open late this year, the probe is badly timed for Packer and Crown.

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Australian billionaire James Packer came to blows with his TV boss best friend in the street because he believed a camera crew was trying to catch him with James Packer ' s worldwide gambling empire, Crown, owns Crown Aspinall’s in London, and casinos in Melbourne, Perth, Macau and Las Vegas.

The investigation will give a fresh airing to the damaging allegations last year that are still deterring big-spending gamers from playing at Crown’s casinos in Melbourne and Perth -- the very customers the firm will also need in Sydney.

At the same time, coronavirus-related travel restrictions in Australia on visitors from China are weighing on gambling flows.

Even before the outbreak, turnover from high rollers at Crown in the six months to December fell 34%.

The investigation in Sydney will thrust Packer into the spotlight and likely subject him to forensic scrutiny. He’s on a list of witnesses to be called along with Lawrence Ho, chief executive officer of Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd. Ho was sucked into the probe after the Macau casino operator last year bought a stake in Crown from Packer.

‘Like a Car Crash’

a screenshot of a cell phone screen with text: Crown's stock price has been turbulent © Bloomberg Crown's stock price has been turbulent

The hearings could make compelling theatre.

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According to the reports last July by Nine Entertainment Co. newspapers, at least one Asian crime syndicate laundered money through Crown’s casinos and the firm allegedly used junket operators with links to drug traffickers as it sought to lure high-roller gamblers.

“It’s going to be a bit like a car crash,” said Roy Wheatley, the head of Global Consulting & Development, an Australian advisory business that specializes in gaming and hotels. “People won’t be able to look away.”

A spokesman for Packer’s private investment company, Consolidated Press Holdings, had no immediate comment.

Crown has called last year’s media reports part of a “deceitful campaign” that sought to damage its reputation. Crown says it’s cooperating fully with the inquiry and will work with regulators on any recommendations.

The probe was established last year by the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, the watchdog that oversees gambling in Sydney and the rest of New South Wales state.

Monday marks the first of five sets of public hearings and Packer and Ho aren’t due to be called until the second at the earliest. Retired Supreme Court Judge Patricia Bergin is overseeing proceedings.

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Focus of Each Hearing
1. Vulnerability of casinos to money laundering
2. Packer’s sale of Crown shares to Melco
3. Crown’s suitability to hold a license in Sydney
4. Crown’s potential new associates at Melco
5. Review of current regulation and legislation

The inquiry is the latest challenge in a tumultuous period for Crown and Packer.

In October 2016, Chinese authorities rounded up Crown’s staff on the mainland and the following year a court convicted 19 current and former employees of illegally promoting gambling.

Packer also split up with fiancée Mariah Carey and he quit Crown’s board in March 2018 because of mental health issues. Talks to sell Crown to Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts Ltd. collapsed early last year.

The inquiry will also examine Melco’s investment in Crown and any links Melco might have with its CEO’s father, Stanley Ho.

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Dozens of entities and individuals that are deemed associates of the Macau casino kingpin have been barred by the New South Wales casino regulator from owning an interest in Crown, directly or indirectly.

A representative for Melco said the company is respectful of the regulatory process and will assist the inquiry where possible.

The representative declined to say whether Lawrence Ho would testify at the inquiry and declined to comment on any link to Stanley Ho.

Melco announced in May last year it would buy about 20% of Crown from Packer. By the time the regulator announced in August plans for an inquiry, Melco had already bought a 10% stake.

Days later, Melco put the second half of its investment on hold and scrapped the additional purchase altogether this month.

It also reversed a plan to seek representation on Crown’s board. It’s not clear how that might affect Bergin’s inquiry.

Melco Delaying $1.2 Billion Deal Another Blow to Crown’s Packer

Crown has also announced board changes before the public hearings.

In an effort to improve governance, John Alexander, Crown’s executive chairman, has made way for a new non-executive chairman, Helen Coonan.

Chief Financial Officer Ken Barton became Crown’s CEO.

A spokesperson for Packer said last month the billionaire is happy to assist the inquiry and will attend hearings if requested.



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