Troubled casino mogul James Packer has given AU$250,000 (US$174,000) to the campaign to free Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and “bring him home to Australia,” The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
Assange has languished in a London prison since April 2019, where he is fighting extradition to the US on espionage charges. Before that, he spent seven years camping out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden to face rape charges.
Of course, I support Julian Assange. What has happened to him is outrageous,” Packer told Nine Newspapers. “A lot of fine people who I am privileged to know are working around the clock for his freedom. I will continue to support him. Whatever it takes.”
Federal prosecutors accuse Australian native Assange of engaging in a conspiracy to access a secret US government computer with the former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
In July 2010, Wikileaks began publishing tens of thousands of classified files related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which had been passed to the activist site by Manning.
The material included footage and audio of two Apache helicopters firing and killing a group of civilians that the crews mistakenly believed to be armed Iraqi insurgents. Two Reuters journalists were killed in the attack, and two children were injured. The crews are heard laughing about some of the casualties.
Assange is a polarizing figure. To many, he is a champion of civil liberties and freedom of the press and a crusader for corporate and governmental transparency. To his critics, he is a cybercriminal who has endangered the lives of hundreds of dissidents in Afghanistan and Iraq by publishing unredacted files.
Packer Working on Reputation
Packer’s decision to associate himself with Assange is a curious one. The billionaire was a scion of Australia’s most powerful media empire until he pivoted to casinos. And he’s more accustomed to hanging around on superyachts with rightwing Israeli prime ministers than throwing his weight behind anti-establishment political causes.
But Packer came off badly during a regulatory inquiry last year in New South Wales that ultimately stripped Crown Resorts of its Sydney gaming license. And he told Nine Newspapers this week he was on a ten-year mission to “rehabilitate his reputation,” so perhaps he wants to be seen as less “establishment.”
Packer, who resigned from the Crown Resorts board completely in 2018, citing mental health issues, still acted like a “de facto director,” exerting a “dysfunctional influence” on the company that had been “disastrous,” according to inquiry chair Patricia Bergin.
Meanwhile, the company he founded was guilty of “poor corporate governance, deficient risk-management structures and processes, and a poor corporate culture,” Bergin said.
The inquiry found Crown had been “facilitating money laundering, exposing staff to the risk of detention in a foreign jurisdiction, and pursuing commercial relationships with individuals” connected to organized crime.
Whatever his reasons, $250,000 is chump change for Packer, who expects to make around AU$3.2 billion (US$2.2 billion) from the sale of Crown Resorts to US private equity giant Blackstone.
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