Nine Entertainment publishing boss James Chessell has hit back at James Packer’s claim that the company’s chairman, Peter Costello, acted as a “secret lobbyist” as a series of secret emails involving high-profile Nine figures surfaces.
Mr Chessell told staff in an email on Monday that “mental health sensitivities” made him reluctant to respond to claims that Mr Costello acted as a secret lobbyist in 2011.
Mr Packer had alleged he or his Consolidated Press Holdings vehicle had recruited Mr Costello in private correspondence in an attempt to firm up relations with then Victorian gaming minister Michael O’Brien.
In the secret emails between the pair in July,uncovered by The Australian, the billionaire businessman accuses Mr Costello of hypocrisy and deceit, adding that he paid Mr Costello $300,000 “to lobby for me, for Crown”.
“You’re one of the biggest hypocrites I have ever met in my life, Peter. I think you should resign from your public positions,” he wrote.
The following day, Mr Packer sent an email to Mr Costello and Mr Chessell, as well as Today presenter Karl Stefanovic, former Nine presenter Lisa Wilkinson, Sun-Herald writer Peter FitzSimons and investment banker Matthew Grounds, writing that Mr Chessell “lacks transparency, lacks integrity and lacks character”.
This week, via a Channel 9 spokesperson, Mr Costello confirmed that he had been “an adviser to CPH in 2011, for a year”.
However, he denied he had engaged in lobbying.
While Mr Costello had been on the Future Fund board since December 2009, the former treasurer joined the Nine board in 2013 as an independent, non-executive director before becoming board chairman in 2016.
Mr Chessell said he wasn’t willing to speak publicly about the billionaire’s claims in an email to staff on Monday.
“I’ve received a blizzard of correspondence from Packer since he took exception to something we published in late June,” Mr Chessell wrote.
“After trying to engage with him at first – which clearly didn’t work – I’ve ignored almost all of it,” he said.
I never heard a word from Peter Costello about Crown Unmasked before, during or after publication/broadcast.”
Back in June, the former Crown executive chair had claimed he wanted to “rehabilitate his reputation” and return to public life.
He told The Weekend Australian that he was the happiest he had been “in years” and was excited about kicking off “a meaningful and successful Act 3”.
At the time, Crown had just been subject to three state-based, royal commission-style inquiries over two years following money laundering in its casinos.
Investigative journalist Nick McKenzie had sparked up the investigations with his series Crown Unmasked series in 2019.
Mr Chessell, in his email to staff, said he had “received another dozen emails from Packer last night”.
“In the past he has copied in executives from competitors such as Seven and News,” he wrote.
“I hope he genuinely does make peace with Crown Unmasked and I wish him all the best.”
In the July emails, Mr Packer has said 9 News should be proud of the investigative series, claiming McKenzie “definitely knew more about what was really happening at Crown than I did”.
“For the record Crown unmasked was a great story and Nine should be very proud of Crown Unmasked. Well done to all involved,” he wrote.
“I mean that. Great journalism in the best sense, and Nick McKenzie should definitely win the Gold Walkley Award for best journalist, best story of the year,” he added.