Australian businessman James Packer has appeared for his first day of questioning at the independent inquiry into Crown casinos.
The inquiry by the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority is examining whether Crown is fit to hold a NSW licence for its soon-to-be-opened harbourside casino in Barangaroo, Sydney.
In particular, it is investigating allegations the company was turning a blind eye to money laundering as international high-rollers were brought into Australia to gamble by separate companies known as “junket operators”.
As questioning began on Tuesday afternoon, the hearing was told Mr Packer had been taking medication that left him with the inability to recall information.
Counsel assisting Adam Bell asked Mr Packer about his use of medication over the past four years since he began steps to withdraw from the company.
“Since 2016 you’ve been prescribed strong medication which you continue to take,” he asked.
“And you say that you believe this has impaired your ability to recall past events including a period where you were the director of Crown Resorts, is that correct?”
Mr Packer replied: “That’s correct.”
Mr Bell also asked Mr Packer of his business dealings in 2015, around the time he canvassed plans to privatise Crown, and of his close friendship to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Crown operates casinos in Melbourne, Perth and London and is set to open the Sydney casino in late December.
The inquiry has also been looking closely at a now-abandoned bid by Hong Kong-based casino company Melco to buy a large stake in the company.
Packer’s departure at centre of inquiry
Mr Packer resigned from his position as director of Crown Resorts in 2018, citing mental health reasons at the time.
Almost a year later he sold off a large portion of his shares but remains a major stakeholder today.
Tuesday’s questioning was expected to centre upon his involvement in Crown since his departure as director and the extent of his influence over the company.
The inquiry has so far heard from more than a dozen witnesses including senior compliance officers who were quizzed on the company’s mechanisms to identify and mitigate serious risks.
Former chairman John Alexander last week told the inquiry that he was unaware of “red flags”, even as late as 2019, when the Commonwealth Bank threatened to shut down bank accounts operated by Crown subsidiaries over money-laundering concerns.