James Packer Prepared to Sell .2 Billion Crown Stake to Blackstone
Crown Resorts’ founder and largest shareholder James Packer is ready to sell his 37 percent stake in the company, but on his own terms. He won’t be leaving it all in the hands of the the board, as previously indicated.
The Crown board is currently weighing up a US$6.2 billion takeover proposal from private equity giant Blackstone, which some analysts are saying undervalues the Aussie casino giant.
Packer hasn’t held an executive position at Crown since his resignation in 2018, citing mental health issues. But he told The Australian Financial Review last month that he was willing to “follow the board” on Blackstone.
‘Suitable Transactions’ Welcome
Not so now. Packer’s private investment group Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH) said in a statement Tuesday that it “welcomes the Crown board’s announcement that it will commence a process to assess the proposal and it will also engage with relevant stakeholders including regulatory authorities about the proposal.”
CPH has enlisted the services of Moelis Australia to advise it during takeover talks. The reclusive billionaire Packer has been eager to divest himself of his shares for several years.
In late May 2019, he agreed to sell 20 percent of Crown in two tranches to his friend and business associate, Lawrence Ho, the Melco CEO.
The purchase of the first 10 percent completed in June 2020. But the second tranche was put on hold pending a regulatory inquiry into Crown’s operations, and the deal later fell through.
That investigation, known as the Bergin Inquiry, found Crown Resorts unsuitable to hold a gambling license in New South Wales. According to the inquiry, the company had facilitated money laundering and pursued commercial relationships with junket operators with links to triads.
Packer was criticized during the inquiry for having a “deleterious impact on the governance of Crown Resorts” even after he stepped down from the board. His party to sensitive financial information on Crown during the share sale to Melco was described as a conflict of interest during the inquiry.
Giving testimony to the inquiry in October, Packer said he would be prepared to sell or cap his ownership of Crown Resorts if it were necessary to protect the company’s license in Australia.
Ultimately, however, while it demanded a change in corporate governance, the Bergin inquiry did not request that Packer sell up.
Three Packer loyalists who also worked for CPH resigned from the Crown board in the wake of the Bergin report. In all, five executives quit, including former CEO Ken Barton.
Packer’s shares are valued at around US$2.2 billion by the Blackstone proposal.
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