Billionaire in 'fist fight' with former best man

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 05 2014 09:49 AM | Updated as of May 05 2014 11:44 PM

Gambling tycoon James Packer and his wife Erica Baxter attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for City of Dreams Macau in this June 1, 2009 file photo. They split last year. Photo by Tyrone Siu, Reuters

SYDNEY (UPDATE) - Billionaire gambling tycoon James Packer and his former best man, the head of Australia's Nine Network, insisted Monday they were still friends despite being involved in an ugly punch-up at Bondi Beach.

The Sydney Morning Herald said more than 50 images show Packer and David Gyngell throwing and receiving punches and wrestling on the ground on Sunday afternoon.

It sparked a bidding war for the photos, which Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. appears to have won, publishing the first four pictures online Monday afternoon.

"We have been friends for 35 years and still are," Packer and Gyngell said in a joint statement as News Corp. non-executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch arrived at the Packer compound.

"In that time we have had our fair share of ups and downs. We respect each other and neither of us will be commenting further."

Bondi resident Chris Walker, who says he witnessed the incident, tweeted about a "massive street fight" outside Packer's multi-million dollar home.

"Holy crap, big street fight outside my house... Not thugs, James Packer... And some other angry bloke going toe-to-toe - total brawl... Wow," he said.

"Packer packered a punch but copped a couple of hits straight to the jaw... Then they all fell on the concrete fence and I think the other guy broke his face.

"They were looking for teeth after he left... I was so thrilled, with a camera in my hand I didn't take a pic," he added.

One other witness told The Australian newspaper that the fight was "like two mad dogs going at each other's throats", while another said Gyngell was engaged in an abusive phone call -- reportedly to Packer -- immediately before he arrived.

The first pictures showed the pair -- Packer in a baseball cap and sunglasses and Gyngell unshaven and barefoot -- brawling before the Nine executive was restrained on the ground by a security guard.

The Sydney Morning Herald said Gyngell was waiting outside Packer's house as the casino mogul was chauffeured home after flying into Sydney Airport on his private jet.

It cited witnesses saying no pleasantries were exchanged when Packer saw him, but rather a flurry of profanities broke out before the punches started flying.

Reports said the pair's life-long friendship -- they attended the same exclusive school, and their fathers were friends -- soured after Packer and his second wife, Erica, separated six months ago.

Gyngell reportedly confronted Packer regarding his decision to leave his wife, something the magnate did not appreciate.

The son of the late media baron Kerry Packer, the 46-year-old is one of Australia's wealthiest people with a personal fortune estimated at Aus$6 billion (US$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 family business away from its traditional media operations and focused on creating Crown, a worldwide gambling empire.

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