James Packer, Australian Billionaire Embroiled in Netanyahu Corruption Case, Steps Down Due to Mental Illness

Packer resigns from board of his casino; Packer named as witness in corruption case against Netanyahu, involving Israeli Hollywood producer Milchan

FILE PHOTO: Billionaire James Packer speaks during a news conference at Melco's Studio City casino resort in Macau, China on October 27, 2015.
Bloomberg

Australian billionaire James Packer, who is a key figure in one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption investigations, has quit the board of casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd due to mental illness, following a tumultuous period including a break-up with singer Mariah Carey and the failure of Crown's expansion strategy.

"Mr Packer is suffering from mental health issues. At this time he intends to step back from all commitments," a Packer spokesman said in an emailed statement. 

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Packer is involved in the so-called cigars and champagne's affair involving Netanyahu. Also called "Case 1000," it involves allegations of straightforward bribery and favor-trading between wealthy businessmen – among them Packer and his affiliate Israeli-born Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan – and the Netanyahus.

The Netanyahus haven't disputed that they got lavish gifts from two wealthy friends, but they vehemently deny the presents were in exchange for political favors such as promoting the two moguls’ business interests, or for obtaining visas.

Packer’s generosity was also directed toward the Netanyahus’ eldest son, Yair – free airplane flights and five-star hotel rooms – as well as tickets for all of the Netanyahus to a concert by Packer’s ex-fiancée, Carey.

The unexpected departure by the 47-percent owner of Crown, comes as the world's seventh-largest listed casino company tries to rebuild after the arrest of 18 staff in China in 2016 triggered a global pull-back. 

Crown shares dropped 1.4 percent to their lowest price in almost a month following the announcement, while the broader market was flat. The stock was already under pressure as it went ex-dividend on Tuesday. 

The company gave no details on Packer's health issues, but recent years have not been smooth sailing for either Crown or its high-profile director. Packer, 50, first left Crown's board in

2015, the year he was briefly engaged to singer Carey, and rejoined 14 months ago while the company was in crisis following the arrest of staff for breaches of gambling marketing laws in China. 

The arrests prompted the Melbourne-based, A$8.9 billion ($6.8 billion) firm to reverse a decade-old global expansion into the Asian gambling hub Macau and Las Vegas, to focus on Australia. Packer declared the company's global strategy a failure. 

In February, he was named by police as a witness in a bribery investigation against Netanyahu. But even before that scandal broke, he told The Australian newspaper "it has been a tumultuous four or five years for me". 

"I've got China falling apart, the Australian casino businesses missing budgets by big amounts, I've got Mariah breaking up with me... " he was quoted as saying during an interview at his Ellerstina ranch in Argentina in October.

Packer forged Crown by selling the media empire that made his family's fortune to private equity firms a decade ago and buying casino interests from Vegas to Macau.