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Australian police probe Packer street brawl

AFP-JIJI

The boss of Australia’s Nine Network Tuesday admitted he was at fault over an ugly street brawl with billionaire gambling tycoon James Packer as police opened investigations into the fight.

The casino mogul and his childhood friend David Gyngell, who had been his best man, traded punches and wrestled on the ground on Sunday afternoon at Bondi Beach, with the incident captured by a paparazzi photographer.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought the pictures and video clips for a reported 250,000 Australian dollars ($232,000), with the tabloid Sydney Daily Telegraph devoting nine pages to the scandal, including a front-page splash headlined “Packer Whacker.”

Packer, 46, left his multimillion-dollar Bondi home Tuesday with a black left eye, to news that police were appealing for witnesses to come forward.

Gyngell accepted responsibility for the brawl in a statement broadcast on the Nine Network. “David Gyngell respects the job police do and will cooperate fully with their investigation,” the statement said. “He also fully accepts that he was the instigator of the incident. Clearly had he not turned up at Packer’s premises in an angry mood, then the confrontation would never have occurred.”

The images taken by a photographer who was in the area hoping to snap Packer with his rumored new love interest, supermodel Miranda Kerr, sparked a bidding war.

The Telegraph and other media said Packer and Gyngell, who have been friends for 35 years, fell out after the casino magnate split with his wife, Erica, six months ago. Gyngell reportedly told Packer he had made a mistake, which the 46-year-old did not appreciate.

Reports said tensions had been building ever since, with Packer apparently fuming that a Nine Network news truck was parked near his Bondi pad and that he would be “door-stepped” on his arrival home from the airport.

Gyngell reportedly assured him in a testy phone call it was a coincidence, but personally went to investigate. He was there when Packer arrived and the verbal abuse quickly escalated into a fight that a witness described as “like two mad dogs going at each other’s throats.”

They were eventually restrained by Packer’s driver and two others as they grappled on the ground.

The men — who went to the same exclusive Sydney school — have since released a joint statement insisting they remain friends.

New South Wales Police Minister Stuart Ayres criticized them for brawling in public. “What we’ve seen in the papers today is clearly a group of people that are doing something that wouldn’t be accepted by anyone within the community,” he told reporters. “I’ll leave that up to the local area command to determine what they do next.”

The son of the late media baron Kerry Packer, James Packer is one of Australia’s wealthiest people, with a personal fortune estimated at AU$6 billion ($5.6 billion). The family company used to own the Nine Network, but sold their final stake in 2008.

Since his father’s death in 2005, Packer has moved the business away from its traditional media operations and focused on creating Crown, a worldwide gambling empire.