Clutching
worry beads just like his late father-figure mentor Rene Rivkin, James
Packer this morning began what will be a gruelling eight days of cross
examination in the NSW Supreme Court at the hands of Jodee Rich’s super-aggressive barrister, David Williams SC.

It was a cautious and hesitant beginning from the media heir as he took almost as long as a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
to provide answers such as as “no, in part,” “I can’t recall” or the
best offering for the morning, “that’s quite possible, possibly even
probable.”

The stakes are clearly very high as James admitted to
spending 7-10 days preparing his evidence with guidance from
Melbourne-based barrister James Elliott, who sat in his usual spot
towards the back whilst ASIC’s counsel lobbed regular but usually
unsuccessful objections to much of the questioning.

James’ most
obliging contribution on the opening morning was to offer up a copy of
all the documents he used to prepare, which were currently stored at
his home, although that wasn’t an address he was comfortable giving
when swearing he would tell the truth. This includes One-Tel and PBL
board documents, his evidence to ASIC and in the liquidators hearing
and a pile of One-Tel monthly and daily flash reports that were in his
possession.

It was clearly an illuminating period as James Packer told the court
this morning that he hadn’t remembered sitting on the One-Tel board for
a week in August 1997. How do you not remember sitting on a board?
James was shown two documents and agreed that he did sign the consent
to nominate but said “nope” when asked if he had filled in the rest of
the form.

Asked if he resigned from the board a week later because his father
Kerry Packer said he was not allowed to sit on boards outside PBL and
CPH, James said “no.”

However, at the time James’ private investment vehicle had just stumped
up another $5 million and was trying to persuade either PBL or the
private Packer interests to come up with another $20 million for
One-Tel.

Having done all this preparation, it was surprising that James couldn’t
handle the opening exchange and tell the court how many One-Tel
affidavits he had sworn. The latest of the five was sworn on November
18 and it is the first that deals with the events of May 27, 2001, when
News and PBL pulled the plug on $132 million rescue rights issue.

Asked
if his first affidavit in June 2002 dealt with the events of that day,
James first claimed it had “at some length,” but on inspecting the
document, he quickly recanted, whilst accepting that it was “a
significant day.”

Williams is clearly pushing to establish that
James Packer was intimately involved in One-Tel from cradle to grave. A
document from November 1994 was produced explaining “Project E” which
was the basis of the initial $250,000 investment by Dorigad, a vehicle
James jointly owned with his since departed investing mate Theo
Onisforou.

James said he would “not necessarily” have read the
document because it was Theo’s job to source investment opportunities.
James could also not recall that Ted Pretty and Peter O’Connell
conducted due diligence for him on the initial One-Tel investment but
accepted it probably happened on inspecting his 1994 diary and seeing
an entry for a meeting with O’Connell.

Whilst a long forgotten
due diligence was done before the initial investment, James said that
PBL’s decision to invest in 1998 and 1999 was driven “to a large extent
by me.”

He did get a CPH analyst John Willings to do some work
but the basis for backing One-Tel was largely the thesis promoted by
Jodee Rich – that the three then mobile phone incumbents, Telstra,
Optus and Vodafone, were worth an estimated $40-50 billion and there
was ample room for a fourth player to share in these riches.

Jodee
Rich sat in the court next to co-accused Mark Silbermann tapping out
copious notes and his lawyer wife Maxine, a key strategist in the
defence, was there as usual too.

Whilst his then wife Jodie
Meares supported James during the One-Tel liquidator hearings in 2002,
current girlfriend Erica Baxter was in court today, with an operative
from solicitors Atanaskovic & Hartnell attempting to move
journalists out of key seats at 9.30am to create room for the Packer
entourage.

At it turned out, the court was never actually full
and there were only about 12 journalists present, far less than the
huge scrum which turned up for Steve Vizard earlier this year.

Whilst
Lachlan Murdoch appeared relaxed and was incredibly nice to everyone
last week, despite not being able to recall much, James Packer did not
appear to be enjoying himself this morning, although he did compliment The 7.30 Report’s Emma Alberici, saying “I love your work on the ABC” during the first 20-minute break after spending an hour on the stand.

ASIC
is seeking civil penalties against Rich and Silbermann and the
repayment of $92 million. The defence is clearly that James Packer knew
everything that was going on, so his “profoundly misled” claim was
rubbish and he should have been in court for the past 15 months too.

Williams claimed that Packer was regularly provided board documents,
received briefings from Jodee Rich before board meetings and also
attending some board meetings – all before he even joined the board.

Packer claimed he couldn’t recall most of this, but did say some early
board documents were in his pile of papers at home, so this presumably
did happen.

On
the key point of Packer’s involvement as One-Tel approached collapse,
James admitted that he used to speak to Rich almost every day when he
was in the country and when out of the country he would speak to
co-founder Brad Keeling or Mark Silbermann.

Williams: From mid-2000 you made it your business to speak to someone from One-Tel every day or so?

Packer: Yes

Hmmm, given that PBL also had executives inside One-Tel and was
receiving daily cash reports, it does look a little odd that James
Packer isn’t also being pursued in this civil action. If Rich and
Silbermann should have pulled the plug three months earlier, shouldn’t
James have done the same?

The next few days might be some of the most unpleasant in James
Packer’s life, but don’t hold your breath for ASIC to ever take action
against Australia’s richest and most powerful family.