By Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie and Hannah Bowers
Credit: Marija Ercegovac
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Secret tapes have revealed Australian billionaire Anthony Pratt’s extraordinary private dealings with Donald Trump, a $1 million promised payment to Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and financial dealings with then-Prince Charles in the hope he would become king.
After recent allegations Trump had leaked classified US submarine fleet details to Pratt, the covert recordings reveal the billionaire claimed the former president also disclosed non-public details about US military action in Iraq and a private conversation with Iraq’s leader.
The tapes, along with internal documents from Pratt’s company, Visy, and briefings from over a dozen sources in the United States and Australia, reveal how the packaging titan uses relationships with powerful figures to obtain an advantage in global business and politics.
Australia’s richest man, Anthony Pratt, (right) with Donald Trump.Credit: Michelle McMinn
Pratt gained access to Trump by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on membership and event fees at the ex-president’s private Florida club, Mar-a-Lago.
Pratt is heard on the tapes simultaneously admiring and besmirching Trump and comparing him to a mafia figure “with balls” who uses henchmen to do his dirty work.
In claiming he had paid a fee of “about a million bucks” to Giuliani in return for the Trump lawyer attending Pratt’s birthday party, the Visy boss explained that “Rudy is someone I hope will be useful one day”. This year, Trump and Giuliani were both charged with criminally subverting the 2020 presidential election.
King Charles is another powerful figure Pratt has cultivated — while he was a prince — with documents listing a “final payment” to “HRH” [His Royal Highness] of $182,000 in 2021.
“My superpower is that I am rich. So I am useful to him [Prince Charles], right?” Pratt said of Charles on the tape.
Pratt at Mar-a-LagoCredit: Michelle McMinn
Leaked documents show how Pratt has also pursued local political influence, revealing consulting payments to two former prime ministers, Tony Abbott and Paul Keating.
Abbott was hired, the files show, weeks after losing his parliamentary seat in 2019, on a retainer of $8000 a month, while Keating’s monthly retainer is $25,000.
In 2022, Pratt budgeted $1.2 million to pay his in-house government affairs and political adviser, Richard Dowdy, who is a former Abbott staffer.
Pratt has also privately claimed on covert recordings that he had donated $1 million to the Voice referendum’s Yes campaign because he had fielded a request to do so from a senior adviser to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
The recordings, which have been obtained by this masthead and 60 Minutes, will reignite the scandal involving allegations Trump had disclosed potentially secret information on the American submarine fleet to Pratt that the Australian businessman later gossiped about.
Pratt did not respond to requests for comment via his media relations manager and hung up when called directly.
Secrets and power
The alleged submarine disclosures by Trump, revealed by a US media outlet, are under investigation and could result in Pratt being called to testify against the former president. They have also made Trump and Pratt’s relationship the focus of intense media scrutiny. Trump is the Republican Party’s frontrunner presidential candidate for 2024.
On the covertly made recordings obtained by 60 Minutes and this masthead of Pratt talking to several people, there is no mention of submarines, but Pratt does claim Trump’s disclosures at Mar-a-Lago were frequently shocking.
“He’s got this ability to say outrageous things non-stop. He’s outrageous,” Pratt said in one recording. “He just says whatever the f— he wants. And he loves to shock people.”
On the same tape, Pratt describes how in 2019, Trump told him he had just ordered the US military to conduct an airstrike on Iranian-linked militants in Iraq. He then disclosed a private phone call he’d had with the leader of Iraq.
“It hadn’t even been on the news yet and he [Trump] said: ‘I just bombed Iraq today and the president of Iraq called me up and said, “You just levelled my city”.’”
Pratt says Trump then boasted about his response: “I [Trump] said to him [Iraq’s leader], ‘OK, what are you going to do about it?’ ”
According to Pratt, Trump then spoke of the infamous conversation he had with President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he pressured the Ukraine leader to investigate then Democrat presidential contender Joe Biden’s son.
A covert recording captures Pratt stating: “Trump said, ‘You know that Ukraine phone call, that was nothing compared to what I usually do.’ He said: ‘That Ukraine phone call, that’s nothing compared to what we usually talk about’.”
Pratt also claimed that Trump described how his phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin were tapped by authorities.
Getting close to the president
The tape recordings of Pratt depict a businessman who relishes proximity to power, exposing a hunt for beneficial connections.
Trump and Pratt both praised each other publicly during the Trump presidency. The businessman ran advertisements in the Wall Street Journal backing Trump after Pratt made a $2 billion commitment to create US manufacturing jobs. In 2019, Trump opened a Visy mill in Ohio where he lauded Pratt’s business prowess.
Privately, Pratt savaged Trump’s ethics, claiming he used proxies to push the boundaries of the criminal law, while simultaneously appearing to admire Trump’s ruthless bravado.
“Who would dream of the minute he becomes president, he starts dealing with other countries, sending his kids to do deals, real estate deals with other countries just to see if he can get away with it?” Pratt states on one recording.
“He knows exactly what to say and what not to say so that he avoids jail … but gets so close to it … that it looks like to everyone that he’s breaking the law. He won’t go up to someone and say: ‘I want you to kill someone’. What he’ll say is he’ll send someone to tell someone to kill someone.
“Trump says, ‘Would you go and tell that guy over there to steal for me?’ And so he can say, ‘I never told the guy to steal’. And things like that is how Trump gets away with it. Most people don’t have the legal background and the sneakiness.”
On another recording, Pratt describes the ex-president as a ruthless operator prepared to poke out the eyes of a rival.
“Can you imagine how yuck it would be to poke someone’s eyes out in a fight? So he does that but in life … He’s shameless and fearless. He’s got incredible balls,” he says.
Pratt also recounts how Trump demeaned his own wife at Mar-a-Lago.
“Melania who was sitting next to him at dinner. He said, ‘I asked Melania to walk around the pool in her bikini so all the other guys could get a look at what they were missing’.”
Trump says, on Pratt’s telling, that Melania had replied: “I’ll do that when you walk around with me in your bikini.”
Pratt appears to have worked assiduously to get close to Trump by purchasing a $200,000 membership at his Mar-a-Lago club in spring 2017 and then spending additional amounts to attend special functions there, sources say.
In a draft copy of a speech Pratt delivered to a Jewish group in late 2019, Pratt describes how he “became a member of the Mar-a- Lago resort” as a “strategic” play to secure access to Trump.
“My membership has given me a seat at the table where the president relaxes socially, and mingles with his guests … The key thing being a member at Mar-a-Lago has done has been that I see the president a few times a year.”
A line that appears crossed out in the draft speech states: “It’s definitely turned out to be a strategic decision – and a very good investment.” It is unclear if Pratt authored the speech or approved the redacted lines.
In another crossed-out sentence, the draft Pratt speech states: “President Trump is a very reciprocal man.”
The draft speech also describes how Trump’s business-friendly policies had not only paid huge commercial dividends for Pratt’s company but how Visy’s investment in jobs and manufacturing in “Ohio, a key battleground state in the 2020 election, ticked lots of political boxes” for Trump.
Pratt’s draft speech also states: “I also support Trump because he’s been the most pro-Israel American president in our time.”
Pratt, Giuliani and an expensive party
Other recordings capture Pratt claiming he paid almost $1 million to Giuliani in the lead-up to his 60th birthday in April 2020. The party was cancelled due to Victoria’s COVID-19 lockdowns, but Pratt describes how the payment led to regular contact with the controversial lawyer.
“I paid about a million bucks to [Rudy to] come out as a celebrity guest [but] it didn’t happen so now he calls me once a week,” Pratt says on a recording in which he also marvels at the ruthlessness of the Trump lawyer, the former president and media baron Rupert Murdoch.
Rudy Giuliani speaks outside the Fulton County jail in Atlanta.Credit: AP
“All these guys are like the mafia. Trump, Rupert, Rudy. You want to be a customer, not a competitor. And I am very aware of that.”
Pratt also explains on the tapes why he cultivated connections with influential figures. “What I’m trying to do is network with people who can be useful. Prince Charles said when he introduced me to Camilla, ‘He’s [Pratt] been very useful.’ And I thought, that’s an insult. And then I thought, it is better than being irrelevant.
“Friend is the best. Useful is a silver medal. So I am looking for people like Rudy [Giuliani].”
In the recordings, Pratt says his relationship with Giuliani solidified over lunches and phone calls during the Trump administration, and after he lost power.
“It’s not all just seat-of-the-pants shit, I think that him [Trump] and Rudy are like that, and they are plotting all this out,” Pratt said of the pair’s efforts to stop Biden becoming president in early 2021.
Pratt described how his relationship with King Charles was carefully cultivated before his coronation.
“I see him as an undervalued political stock. It is just that he is a laughing stock now. But when he is king, [they] won’t be laughing.”
The tapes capture a hawkish Pratt claiming to have warned Trump that: “I think China is going to take over Australia.”
In a recent speech praising Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Pratt struck a softer tone on Beijing, stating: “It’s to your great credit that we’ve been able to break the ice between the Australian and Chinese government.”
The tape recordings also provide insights into Pratt’s ability to shift with the political wind as he described more recent efforts to ingratiate himself with the Biden administration.
In Australia, Pratt has cultivated both the Coalition and Labor, making generous donations to both parties.
The leaked documents detail an apparent $1 million donation he made to Labor in January which is yet to be publicly disclosed and which comes after reported donations in the 2021-22 financial year of $1.96 million to the ALP and $1.7 million to the Coalition.
Anthony Pratt and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at Parliament House in August.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
After it was reported earlier this year that Pratt had donated $1 million to the Voice Yes campaign, he was asked by a journalist why he’d done so. Pratt referred the question to an adviser, who said: “It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”
But in private, this masthead has confirmed via confidential sources that Pratt claimed he made the donation only after his government relations adviser had held a private meeting with one of Albanese’s senior staffers and had asked if there was anything Pratt could do to help the Labor administration.
Pratt claims that the PM’s staffer responded by asking Pratt to support the Voice, prompting the donation.
The documents list “consultant” payments to Paul Keating of $25,000 a month and to Tony Abbott of $8000 a month after his hiring in June 2019.
Paul Keating and Anthony Pratt at an Australian Financial Review event.Credit: Peter Braig
Abbott did not respond to questions, while Keating said his decade-long stint as a consultant for Pratt was well-known.
“I do not advise Mr Pratt on commercial matters in Australia or abroad [or]… on government matters in Australia that may be relevant to him or his company. My advice is limited to big picture issues of the international kind,” Keating said.
Pratt’s cultivation of the media is also canvassed in the tape recordings, with the billionaire describing how he had pulled his $730,000 sponsorship package of Sky News programs hosted by Sharri Markson and Alan Jones after Albanese and Biden had been elected.
“I’m a big sponsor of Sky, we are the wallpaper of Canberra,” he states.
“I was Sharri’s big sponsor. I’m not any more because as soon as Biden and Albanese got in, I told Sky I only want to sponsor Sky in the afternoon, none of the talk shows, because it’s too right-wing.”
Pratt has advertised in, or run conferences on superannuation, recycling and his Global Food Forum with The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review, which are owned by Nine Entertainment.
He has also run advertisements and events with News Corp publications The Australian and The Wall Street Journal for his Global Food Forum.
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