An extraordinary series of emails from James Packer to some of media giant Nine’s most senior figures has spilled into public view – with the billionaire ripping into former federal treasurer Peter Costello and a top editor.
In June and July this year, Packer fired off a series of explosive emails to several Nine Entertainment Co bigwigs – with one message looping in chairman Mr Costello, Nine’s newspaper chief James Chessell, Today Show host Karl Stefanovic, columnist Peter FitzSimons and The Project’s Lisa Wilkinson.
In the messages, Packer, the former executive chair of Crown Resorts, said he was ‘ashamed’ of the ‘bad things that happened at Crown on my watch’ which were featured in a 60 Minutes program.
He took particular umbrage at Mr Chessell, a former foreign correspondent who runs The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.
Packer also fired a shot at Mr Costello, saying he had worked for him in 2011, which sparked a swift clarification from Nine on what his role actually was.
James Packer fired off brutal emails to several of Nine’s senior figures in July this year
Packer claimed he had paid Costello $300,000 to act as his ‘secret Crown lobbyist’ for a year in 2011.
‘Your job was to get me closer to (then Victorian gaming minister) Michael O’Brien,’ Packer wrote to the Nine chairman, in emails seen by The Australian.
That was immediately refuted by a Nine spokeswoman, who noted the former federal treasurer and company CEO was only an adviser to Consolidated Press Holdings – one of Mr Packer’s private investment houses – for one year, and was not a lobbyist for Packer.
Mr O’Brien told the publication that Mr Costello ‘has never lobbied me on behalf of Crown or any other business’.
Another email showed Packer unleashing on Mr Chessell, writing in one scathing message that he had ‘nothing but contempt’ for the journalist and didn’t trust him.
In a note to staff, Mr Chessell claimed on Monday he’d been bombarded with emails by the billionaire businessman in the wake of an investigative piece into Crown casinos titled ‘Crown Unmasked’.
The six month joint investigation by 60 Minutes, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald pulled back the curtain on the inner workings of Crown. It revealed Crown had developed inappropriate relationships with crime figures linked to drug importation, and had used its power to speed up the visa process for Chinese high rollers.
Mr Chessell told Nine staffers: ‘I hope he (Packer) genuinely does make peace with Crown Unmasked and I wish him all the best.
‘I’ve received a blizzard of correspondence from Packer since he took exception to something we published in late June. After trying to engage with him at first – which clearly didn’t work – I’ve ignored almost all of it.
‘As Executive Editor I backed Crown Unmasked to the hilt, pushed for it to be a co-pro with 60 Minutes and backed our robust defence of those stories when Crown launched an (ultimately failed) PR campaign (supported by News Corp) to discredit us.’
JAMES PACKER’S FIERY TEXTS TO NINE BOSSES
The Australian newspaper published a series of emails from Mr Packer to Nine executives and media personalities on Monday:
PACKER’S JAMES CHESSELL SPRAY – JUNE 24, 2022
From Mr Packer to Hollywood director and former business partner Brett Ratner, with Peter FitzSimons, Lisa Wilkinson, Karl Stefanovic, James Chessell, Joe Aston, Matthew Grounds and Andrew Denton all CC’d: ‘I trust EVERYONE on this email chain EXCEPT for James Chessell.
‘For the record Crown unmasked was a great story. Great journalism in the best sense. I will always be ashamed that some of the bad things that happened at Crown happened on my watch. Nick McKenzie definitely knew more about what was really happening at Crown than I did.’
PACKER ON COSTELLO – JULY 23, 2022:
Mr Packer to Peter Costello: ‘You were my secret Crown lobbyist Peter. In 2011 I personally paid you $300K (CPH did anyway, you didn’t want the Crown directors to know) to lobby for me, for Crown.
‘Your job was to get me closer to Michael O’Brien …’
PACKER TO JAMES CHESSELL – JULY 23, 2022
Mr Packer to James Chessell: ‘I am staggered that your moral compass points so far away from true north. I have nothing but contempt for you James.’
Peter FitzSimons and his wife Lisa Wilkinson were CC’d into the emails sent by the billionaire businessman this year
Packer in another email heaped praise on The Age’s investigative journalist Nick McKenzie for his work on Crown Unmasked.
‘For the record Crown unmasked was a great story,’ Mr Packer wrote.
‘I will be always be ashamed that some of the bad things that happened at Crown, happened on my watch.
‘Nick McKenzie definitely knew more about what was really happening at Crown than I did.’
Mr Packer took aim at Nine’s Managing Director of Publishing James Chessell (pictured), saying he had ‘nothing but contempt’ for him
Crown has been at the centre of three royal commission-style inquiries amid allegations of money laundering.
Mr Packer sold Crown to private investment company Blackstone for $8.9billion in a deal that was finalised in June, with the businessman pocketing $3.3billion.
He’s now planning his return to Australia next March, which will be his first time back in his home country since January, 2020.
The father-of-three earlier told The Weekend Australian he is excited to begin his ‘third act’ and plans to ease back into public life in Australia.
Daily Mail Australia sought comment from a representative of Mr Packer.
In a separate message, the businessman alleged he’d paid former federal treasurer Peter Costello (pictured right with Karl Stefanovic and Ally Langdon) $300,000 to work as his ‘secret lobbyist’ at Crown in 2011