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The dubious dealings of James Packer – when money talks

The Times of Israel reported last week that James Packer is to be questioned by Israeli police as part of a corruption investigation into allegations Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted expensive gifts from wealthy businessmen.

As part of the probe, police are reportedly looking into whether Netanyahu tried to help Packer gain residency in Israel. Packer, who also bought a home next to Netanyahu in the prosperous coastal city of Caesarea, is reportedly seeking residency status for tax purposes. New Israeli residents are granted a 10-year tax holiday on foreign-source income.

This is just one case in a long list of Packer’s dubious dealings where laws are changed or ignored to accommodate his business ventures and his desire to avoid paying tax.

In September 2013, Sri Lanka’s main opposition party demanded the arrest of Packer, saying his plan to build a $US400 million ($426 million) casino in Colombo had no proper licence. When the new government cancelled the extremely generous tax concessions offered to Packer by the previous Rajapaksa regime (a measly 5% forced up only due to public opposition), he pulled out of the venture causing the new Prime Minister to declare he was no longer welcome in the country.

“Packer says he will not come. Who asked you to come?” prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a statement released by his office. “Please don’t come – not in this lifetime. We need only good investors … we don’t want an economy relying on casinos.”

Last year, several Crown employees were arrested for trying to entice Chinese high rollers to come to Packer’s casinos in Macau. It is legal to ask them to your “resort” but not to promote gambling.

But this is not the first controversy regarding Packer’s dealings in Macau which he recently terminated, after making about $4.5 billion cash returns since his original investment in late 2004 representing a return of 5.9 times his total investment.

In 2012, the OECD Foreign Bribery report had this to say:

The Casino Foreign Bribery Case concerned an Australian company that owned and managed casinos, including two in Macau, China. In 2008, a former senior public works official in the Macau Government was convicted of accepting bribes. The indictment against the official listed the two casinos in question as among at least ten ―suspect projects. According to media reports, indications of bribery included the fact that the casinos were granted land that was originally planned for the construction of a university, and construction began before formal rezoning procedures were completed and recorded. The AFP has not commenced a domestic investigation, but has merely exchanged information with the authorities in Macau in July 2009. There was no indication that the Australian company would be prosecuted in Macau.

The report expressed grave concern at the AFP’s inaction in investigating foreign bribery cases. “This is especially the case when foreign bribery is allegedly committed by a company that has its headquarters or substantial operations in Australia.”

But James seems untouchable.

The story of how he first lost, and then won, the bid for a casino in Sydney, recounted in The Monthly, shows how much power the Packers wield.

“The old man told me to ring … this is the message. If we don’t win the casino, you guys are fucked.” In the tendering process for the first Sydney casino in the early 1990s, James Packer was tasked with intimidating John Fahey’s Liberal government into ensuring the licence ended up in Packer hands. But it didn’t, and the Fahey government folded not long afterwards.

James Packer would not make the same mistake twice. Despite deals that the Star would not have a city-based rival, he had long eyed a second Sydney casino, and consummately lobbied politicians to bring it about. In August 2012 he went to see the then premier, Barry O’Farrell, and made his case forcefully.

As reported by Crikey:

James Packer’s mum, Ros Packer, donated $570,000 to the Federal Liberal Party in November 2012, the same month that David Murray was appointed by the relatively new NSW government to assess the Packer proposal. [David Murray was the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank and was a guest at Packer’s wedding]. By the time this huge donation was disclosed on February 1, 2014, Packer had already been given the nod to proceed.

Approval was given in record time, all checks were expedited, oversight was bypassed or rubber-stamped.

It was given a favourable tax rate and green-lit without anything as embarrassing as a public meeting.

Crown and the developer Lendlease made numerous changes to the applications after they were already approved, cannibalising public parkland and significantly increasing the floor space. A community-based legal challenge failed.

“We were talking in broad concepts of a six-star hotel funded through a small high-rollers room,” one anonymous source told Fairfax. “Then MOD 8 [the modification to the concept plan] came along and the casino turned into a large podium and a stonking big residential sold to billionaire property investors.”

Crown also lobbied the Productivity Commission to introduce express visas from China, and the Turnbull government obliged. Like the Star, the Barangaroo casino won’t be subject to alcohol restrictions or smoking bans [unlike the rest of Sydney].

In response to questions from Senator Louise Pratt in May this year, the Department of Immigration admitted it was working with the Australian Federal Police on several allegations of money laundering via the Business Innovation and Investment visa scheme including the Significant Investor Visa.

In late 2015, the Productivity Commission recommended that these visas should be scrapped.

Auctioning off Australian visas could boost the country’s bottom-line by $7.6 billion per year but the Productivity Commission rejected the idea saying that it is short-sighted and would attract the wrong sort of people. In its draft recommendations, the Productivity Commission instead called for improvements in the immigration system stating that it needs to focus on attracting skilled migrants, removing barriers to immigrants integrating into the labour market, and improving access to humanitarian migrants.

The commission said its research and analysis found that gains from auctioning off visas would be minor compared to the ongoing contributions and income tax that can be collected from younger immigrants over their lifetime. It said, skilled immigrants contribute much more in tax than they cost in services and warned that selling visas could hurt the economy in the long term.

The commission’s report also made a call to abolish the significant and premium investor visas saying that Australia’s “open and deep capital markets are no barrier to foreign investors.” It argued that the economic benefits of such visas accrue mainly to the visa holders and fund managers selling assets to foreigners.

“The benefits to Australian businesses seeking investment and the economic benefits to the broader Australian community are likely to be very small or nonexistent,” it said. “Overall the case for retaining the Significant Investor Visa and Premium Investor Visa streams is weak.”

In February last year, the SMH reported that Crown Casino in Melbourne is a haven for drug traffickers and money launderers, leading one of Victoria’s most prominent judges to label the venue a “blot on the community”. The Sunday Age also revealed that crown’s gaming chips have become a de facto currency among underworld figures to hide assets from authorities, trade for drugs and pay debts.

With an impressive list of ex-politicians (and some would argue current) on the payroll, we will no doubt continue to ignore all advice and pretend that people like Packer, Murdoch and Rinehart are good for this country and continue to strive to make them earn more and contribute even less here than they have to in the countries they have chosen to call home. We will welcome those with lots of cash, regardless of its source, whilst making it even harder for genuine migrants who want to work here.

It is the greed of the unscrupulous and the ambition of the inept that is putting this country at risk.

When money talks, politicians become deaf to everything else.

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  1. Freethinker

    So, what it is the difference between investing money in Panama or Israel ?
    Just wonder if in the photo both of them are discussing it……..

  2. Bronte ALLAN

    Why would anyone be surprised that yet another obscenely wealthy person is & has been getting laws changed to help them avoid paying any taxes & thinking they have done nothing wrong. It seems to me that they (the obscenely wealthy) seem to think that any countries laws are there for them to bend or break to satisfy their own “needs” (sic!), & to hell with honesty, fair dealing,obeying laws etc Then again, why would they do anything else? They seem to think the world revolves around only them & their interests.

  3. Maxoz

    Robin Askin would be proud of our current crop of Liberal politicians

  4. diannaart

    I do believe life would be simply more satisfying if the 1% put the same amount of energy (and graft) into helping the climate/environment, third world countries, refugees, education, health, infrastructure (apart from roads), quality and safe housing for low income… they’d still have lots of lovely money left over because they could claim so much of it back and more people would sincerely respect them.

    But what do I know?

  5. Freetasman

    Maxoz, and he was a “Sir”

  6. Matters Not

    Barry O’Farrell, said Mr Murray would conduct a ”detailed, independent and rigorous assessment” of the economic benefit of issuing a second Sydney casino licence to Mr Packer’s company, Crown.

    Note that the Terms of Reference focussed on the economic benefits . And no doubt there are many economic benefits if you define them in particular ways and you don’t identify whose benefit is under consideration. Never mention a sociological or personal downside. Perhaps downsides are not considered to be of consequence?

    What alarms me the most is the means employed. Packer after all only has one vote. Murdoch not even one. Yet they get their way. Often it involves the employment of political insiders. Many of whom were, in name at least, on the progressive side of politics. Such people know how to win the votes of the elected. Sometimes it’s because they know where the skeletons are buried, sometimes it involves friendships, contacts and the like. There’s debts to be paid – and incurred – but it never involves transparency.

    Never let the Sleeper Awake.

  7. wam

    casinos cannot exist without government patronage. Packer and gina get plenty of support from government. It is fitting such support should come from employees who live on their largess.
    I am an addict and go to my ‘church’ every day. I have seen the proliferation of machines to every corner of the building, Table game are only for friday and saturday nights and holidays so it is really a pokie club.
    I am on speaking terms with the floor employees and the desk staff. most of whom are kiwis or filpinos. Yesterday the casino yet another machine that reduces human contact between us addicts and staff. the separation has been insidious which is in contrast to the introduction American roulette wheels replacing ALL of the previous Australian tables. Punters are there to pay not think QED like voter just, in ignorance, lay done their cash and take what they are given.
    Spot on ‘matters not’ the secret to any ‘independent’ action is the terms of reference keep them secret and all semblance of independence disappears but the banner letterhead independent is displayed and only the cynics have a laugh at the lie.

  8. Kaye Lee

    By June 2012 Packer had hired Karl Bitar and Mark Arbib, both previously senior figures in the NSW Labor right faction – he also had the former Liberal senator Helen Coonan, a minister in John Howard’s government, on his books. Keating was also instrumental in pushing it.

    the independent Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), which released its determination on the hotel and casino and other changes to Barangaroo in June last year, also made clear it would have recommended more substantial adjustments had the NSW Parliament not already locked in support for the casino.

    The three member PAC panel said it had “a great deal of sympathy” for the criticism expressed by the City of Sydney and others that the construction of Crown’s casino and hotel was taking place on land previously reserved for a park.

    But the PAC said “the NSW Parliament effectively settled the issue about the location of Crown Sydney” when it legislated for the location of a gaming floor on the site in 2013. As such, the PAC said it could not recommend moving the building.

  9. Win jeavons

    At what point does rampant corruption become so unacceptable that mass revulsion triggers mass action at or beyond the ballot box?

  10. Andreas Bimba

    That’s politics in the banana republic.

  11. fa

    Tax evasion, nepotism, bribery, appropriating land via dubious means earmarked for a university, ingratiating himself to politicians on a quid pro quo basis, clear contempt for the law – James Packer’s immorality and greed know no bounds. The big question for me is how does James Packer get away with this roguish behaviour that demonstrates clear contempt for the law? When will this man be brought to justice? Thank you, Kaye Lee, for another concise, articulate, intelligently written piece that shines a spotlight on the corrupt practices of the elite uber-wealthy. And thank you for allowing the freedom to comment on your excellent pieces.

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