“Mr Packer wants to install the former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett (left) on Echo’s board.” Photo: Justin McManus
THE Premier, Barry O’Farrell, has backed James Packer in his battle to control the rival gaming company Echo Entertainment by praising the casino mogul and the performance of his company, Crown, as the billionaire steps up his public campaign.
Mr Packer wants to install the former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett on Echo’s board to gain control of its monopoly NSW casino licence and build a $1 billion hotel and casino complex at Barangaroo.
He is pushing to remove the chairman of Echo Entertainment, John Story, at an extraordinary general meeting on July 20.Advertisement: Story continues below http://ad-apac.doubleclick.net/adi/onl.smh.news/national/nsw;cat=national;cat1=nsw;ctype=article;pos=3;sz=300×250;tile=3;ord=4.2314978E7?
Mr Packer has taken out newspaper advertisements attacking the company’s financial performance and its handling of the scandal surrounding the Star casino after the sacking of its managing director, Sid Vaikunta, for sexual harassment.
Crown, which holds a 10 per cent shareholding in Echo, has also applied to the gaming regulator for permission to raise its stake after being rebuffed by Mr Story in its request for a board seat.
After Mr Packer appeared in the Herald on Monday calling for the support of Echo shareholders, Mr O’Farrell yesterday praised his record and Crown’s performance.
”The battle between Crown and Echo is a corporate conflict, albeit starting to look like a political campaign,” Mr O’Farrell said.
”The fact is that James Packer is a shrewd and successful businessman. I don’t own shares except in a local community bank [but] the fact is I’m sure shareholders are impressed with the success that Crown’s had in recent times.”
In response, Echo’s group general counsel, Michael Anderson, said: ”Echo Entertainment Group does not believe it is appropriate to be commenting on a matter that is currently under consideration by the independent regulator.”
The comments risk inflaming tensions between Echo and the state government, which was dragged into the Star scandal by Echo’s decision in February to leak private messages between Mr O’Farrell’s then communications director, Peter Grimshaw, and his partner.
Mr Grimshaw’s partner was one of two female managers at the casino who accused Mr Vaikunta of sexual harassment.
Echo’s chief executive, Larry Mullin, told an inquiry into the Star sparked by Mr Vaikunta’s sacking that the emails and text messages were leaked to the media to counter what the company believed was a campaign against the Star by Mr Grimshaw.
Mr O’Farrell has previously welcomed Mr Packer’s plans to build a new casino at Barangaroo as ”an exciting proposal” but stressed there were a range of regulatory decisions to be made at arm’s length from government before it would be possible.