In 2012, the OECD Anti-Bribery working group released a report saying they had “serious concerns that overall enforcement of the foreign bribery offence to date has been extremely low” in Australia.
“Out of 28 foreign bribery referrals that have been received by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), 21 have been concluded without charges. The Working Group thus recommends that the AFP take sufficient steps to ensure that foreign bribery allegations are not prematurely closed, and be more proactive in gathering information from diverse sources at the pre-investigative stage.”
One of the terminated cases involved James Packer.
Casino Foreign Bribery Case
In 2009, authorities in a foreign country brought charges against one of their officials for domestic bribery and listed two projects by an Australian casino company as suspect projects in the indictment. 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. Australia reported to the Working Group that the AFP supported investigations by the foreign authorities, but did not start a domestic investigation.
Despite Macau prosecutors listing James Packer’s Crown Macau and the City of Dreams among at least 10 “suspect projects” involving bribe-taking and money laundering in an indictment against former Macau public works minister Ao Man-long, Packer escaped any investigation or penalty.
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.
“The old man told me to ring … this is the message. If we don’t win the casino, you guys are f*cked.”
Packer didn’t win the bid and the Fahey government folded not long afterwards.
Fast forward to August 2012, and James Packer goes to see the then premier, Barry O’Farrell, to forcefully make his case for a second casino for Sydney. Just a week after the O’Farrell meeting, the need for independent reviews over the process was done away with, and the bid was secured in record time of seven weeks. It was given a favourable tax rate and green-lit without anything as embarrassing as a public meeting.
On the 22nd of November 2012, Packer’s mother Ros makes a donation of $570,000 to the Liberal Party.
According to Michael Brodie of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, the probity check of Crown took just three months. He described it as “one of the fastest assessments of a casino applicant in history”. The development applications were similarly expedited, and 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.
The project tried to damp down controversy by targeting overseas high rollers only, especially those from Asia, with VIP-only membership rules. 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. Apparently it is only poor people’s smoke that is harmful.
But back to the business plan of luring high-rollers from China – it’s illegal and 17 Crown employees were arrested and incarcerated in China last November for “gambling crimes”.
Crown’s ploy was to present Barangaroo as a “resort” but the Chinese authorities weren’t taken in by this flimsy cover. Macau-based Ben Lee, who has worked for Star and Crown in Australia, and now consults to international companies on Asian gambling strategies, said “this is one company, Crown, that believed they had insulated themselves with the myth they are marketing a resort. This was the height of folly.”
But that’s the way James Packer works – splash money around, buy influence and forget the rules – and it has put him in hot water again.
Mr Packer is reported to be seeking Israeli citizenship, which would exempt him from paying tax on assets he owns outside the country for 10 years. Company documents filed in Hong Kong reveal that, for at least the past 18 months, Mr Packer has been telling authorities in the former British colony his residential address is an apartment in the Royal Beach Hotel, overlooking the Tel Aviv seaside.
Rather than pursuing the ordinary channels, God forbid, Packer has been accused of giving lavish gifts to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family, who are under criminal investigation for possible corruption.
Mr Packer purchased a million-dollar beachfront mansion in Israel right next door to the private home of Mr Netanyahu, and began making substantial investments in Israel’s booming tech market.
In March 2015, Mr Packer was a surprise special guest in the audience when Mr Netanyahu addressed the US Congress in Washington. He then appeared at another speech Mr Netanyahu gave to the UN General Assembly in New York later that year, standing with senior Israeli officials and the Netanyahu family.
The Israeli media report alleged Mr Packer showered lavish treatment on the Prime Minister’s family, particularly on his 25-year-old son, Yair, giving him numerous free luxurious holidays at properties he owns and rents around the world.
Mr Packer reportedly gave 10 tickets to a Mariah Carey concert held near Tel Aviv to the Prime Minister’s wife, Sara, whom Israeli police have recommended should be indicted over separate allegations of misuse of public funds, and seven tickets to Yossi Cohen, the head of intelligence agency Mossad.
Under foreign bribery laws, the AFP is responsible for investigating allegations of payments or gifts by Australian businesses to foreign leaders and their families. It is an offence, punishable by up to 10 years’ jail and a fine of up to $1.7 million, to bribe a foreign public official but, according to the ABC, there is no active investigation by the AFP into Mr Packer.
A few years ago, Donald Trump was quoted saying that if American companies refused to give bribes, “you’ll do business nowhere”.
One wonders why the Coalition is trying to get rid of regulations – and Trump likewise. It seems obvious they are no impediment provided you have enough money.
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