Meet the Packers

THE MAN behind Bloombury Investment Ltd.’s supposed foreign partner has in recent months launched aggressive moves to expand his inherited multibillion-dollar gaming and media empire.

But he has done so at a time when his rank on the lists of Australia’s richest billionaires lists has been sliding steadily.

In 2005, at age 39, James Douglas Packer became Australia’s richest man after taking a majority stake in Publishing & Broadcasting Limited (PBL), following the death of his father, Kerry, in December that year.

Two years hence, Packer has dropped two slots on the list of Australia’s most affluent. He turns 41 in September with his estimated wealth down from A$7.25 billion (US$6.98 billion) in 2006 to A$6.10 billion (US$5.87 billion) this year, according to BRW magazine, Australia’s leading business magazine. BRW publishes an annual list of the 200 wealthiest individuals and families in the Land Down Under.

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The One.Tel debacle coincided with the breakup of Packer’s first marriage and reportedly made him depressed. Actor Tom Cruise, who happens to be Packer’s friend, then introduced him to Scientology.

Last May, though, reports spread that Packer had stopped taking Scientology courses after being told the group was taking advantage of his money. Yet other stories said that Packer thought he no longer needed help from the religious group because he had recovered from his personal and financial woes.

Still, other reports claim Packer had felt uncomfortable with Scientology’s beliefs that frown upon gambling. Three decades ago, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard had denounced gambling, saying, “An obsessive gambler is a psychotic, just like a drug addict or an alcoholic.”

James Packer, however, is not known to be particularly fond of gambling, except as a business venture. This, as well as a gentle demeanor, set him apart from his father Kerry, who was known to be blunt and had a volcanic temper.

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