Packer: bullying billionaire who loved brothels

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2007, 12:00am


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Anyone who tangled with Kerry Packer - regarded by many as a billionaire bully - usually emerged feeling as if they had been dragged through a hedge.

The media baron's unparalleled power and influence, and his routine threats of legal action, ensured his fiercely guarded private life remained just that. Now, nearly two years after his death, the scandalous details are beginning to emerge.

New disclosures in the latest edition of The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer, a biography of Australia's richest man, tell of his 'love' for prostitutes and how he provided call girls for politicians and businessmen.

The book also reveals Packer had a string of mistresses, one of whom committed suicide after he pulled the plug on her lavish lifestyle.

Carol Lopes was a stunning black American fashion model who had a four-year affair with the tycoon and then ran private bordellos at his behest in Sydney's exclusive Palm Beach. She sourced beautiful and intelligent women in New York, London and Brazil, who were paid A$10,000 (HK$68,000) to stay for a week in the luxury rented homes, and extra if they were 'used'.

According to the book, Carol told friends the service was 'to thank men who had done him a good turn, to pay them back'.

'These brothels were set up with women from South America and the United States for precisely the reason, it seems to me, that they wouldn't know who they were with,' says author Paul Barry.

'That's why it's very hard to be absolutely certain who went there.'

But he doubts the revelations will lead to any of them being outed.

'If you named them you would be suggesting they gave Packer favours,' he says. 'You would be suggesting corruption, or at least that's what they would argue you were suggesting. I think they'll be able to sleep soundly.'

The biography documents the often intimidating and foul-mouthed style that helped Packer build a massive fortune from a TV, magazine and gaming empire.

The high roller's love of polo, betting on horses and casinos was legendary, including stories of how he lost US$20 million in one night playing blackjack at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. And there are details of Packer's attempts to minimise taxation through the use of offshore havens, including Hong Kong.

Best known overseas for the rebel World Series Cricket that transformed the sport in the late 1970s, it is the expose of his sex life that is now capturing most attention.

Barry tells how, like his father Sir Frank Packer (who took eldest son Clyde to a Paris brothel on his 21st birthday), Kerry had a 'notorious love of prostitutes'. His idea of a good night out, according to one journalist, was 'brothel, casino, brothel'.

After meeting Lopes at a party in the late 1970s, Packer put her up in upmarket Sydney apartments and funded a glamorous existence. Already a darling of the local society scene, Lopes briefly hosted a late-night movie show on Packer's Nine Network. 'She soon attracted a cult following, because she was spectacularly bad,' notes Barry.

During their affair, Lopes told friends she was Packer's Sonap - sex only, no appearances in public - but still became a magnet for international stars like Bob Dylan, Tina Turner and Stevie Wonder, who hung out at her palatial digs.

Her TV career came to an abrupt end when police found marijuana at her apartment, but Packer found her a new job as promotions director at one of his magazines - Australian Playboy - in which she posed nude at the age of 40.

By that time the relationship had shifted from personal to professional, and over most summers in the 1980s Lopes organised the private bordellos in secluded Palm Beach houses.

With champagne on tap and a chef on call, half a dozen foreign women would lounge topless by the pool and spa, waiting for selected politicians and executives to arrive.

Barry also tells how Lopes organised girls for Packer and his mates during overseas business trips. 'Big dollars were involved, especially for a month in London, and Carol ensured the girls were well looked after,' one of Carol's friends told him. 'She would take them shopping for clothes and jewellery. She would dress them. She would organise hairdressers, manicures, pedicures and there would be a masseuse there as well.'

But relations between Lopes and Packer soured after he pumped around A$2 million into a failed Aboriginal art gallery she had opened in Los Angeles.

Packer froze her out of his life - refusing increasingly desperate attempts to see him - and finally cut financial support.

After several attempts to kill herself, a deeply depressed and unstable Lopes finally succeeded in 1991; she overdosed on sleeping tablets at a rented Palm Beach house Packer was still paying for.

'Carol clearly loved him,' writes Barry. 'She had been abused as a child and brought up by foster parents and she saw Kerry as her guardian and surrogate father, which is why his ultimate rejection hit her so hard.'

But he says it would be wrong to blame Packer for the suicide. 'I think he may have contributed to it but I think he also was good to her a lot of the time.' Only one newspaper covered Lopes' death in detail, and merely hinted at links to Packer.

The book says the businessman had at least three other long-term mistresses, the last of whom - Julie Trethowan - was with him for almost 20 years until his death at the age of 68 on Boxing Day 2005.

Plagued by ill-health for much of his life, by the 1990s, according to one executive, Packer 'no longer stomped through the magazine floor eyeing off all his female staff like a bull in a paddock'.

His helicopter pilot and close friend Nick Ross - whose donation of a kidney saved Packer's life in 1998 - offers a glimpse into a chauvinistic mindset. 'He didn't consider most women to be on the same level as a man ... just slightly underneath.'

Throughout, his wife, Ros, remained at Packer's side, telling friends: 'There will only ever be one Mrs Packer.'

'There was little chance of Kerry divorcing Ros, who stayed at home to bring up the children and manage the households,' writes Barry, 'because it would involve giving up hundreds of millions of dollars in a settlement.'

As one of his executives tartly observed: 'Gangsters never leave their wives.'

She may also have wanted to keep the family together, including only son James, who now runs the Packer empire and has made his biggest gambles on massive casino projects in Macau and Las Vegas.