Revamping our draconian defamation laws will help shield investors from fraudulent operators, writes Michael West.
WARNING: this is not a parody. Fraudsters have conferences too. We have a conference program here to prove it. The program is contained in a leaked email from Jack Flader, the criminal mastermind behind the biggest superannuation fraud this country has seen Trio Capital.
In the email, Flader invites his 25 "delegates" from around the world to the Marriott Hotel in Pattaya, Thailand.
Here are extracts:
SUNDAY, APRIL 3
Delegates arrive in Bangkok.
MONDAY, APRIL 4
You will be collected at the Marriott and taken to Jack's house for meetings.
10am. Opening remarks by Jack Flader.
10.15am. Lawyer Update on regulatory and other legal issues (lawyers please prepare topic of your choice that is relevant to our business).
1pm. Lunch Thai food.
2.30pm. Lawyer Update continued.
5pm. Transport back to Marriott.
8pm. Global Corporate Consultants dinner at Casa Pascal.
That was day one. We won't bore you with the whole program, just the choice bits:
Tuesday was the day for the "broker/dealer panel" with New World Financial, Huntleigh Securities and Research Capital all presenting.
In the afternoon was the "Annual Golf Tournament. Please advise if you will be bringing your own 'caddy'."
Wednesday afternoon, after the "funds updates", delegates were invited to relax around the pool and at the massage table.
Thursday was "beach day at outlying island. Please advise whether you will be carrying any additional 'luggage'."
Friday would be spent discussing strategy and future deals. In the evening, delegates were invited to join the "Gregory S. Rullo Bar Tour".
On the final day, Saturday, activities were scheduled to start at 1pm. "BBQ and Pool Day. Please advise if you will be bringing additional 'pool toys'."
DON'T let anybody tell you that conferences are a waste of time. That was 2005. Flader's Australian operations went on to rip $176 million out of the superannuation system.
Investors lost their life savings. The head of the operation in Sydney, Shawn Richard, was jailed. But the fun-loving Flader remains at large.
"Jack Flader is allegedly the ultimate controller of the Trio group," said the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. "Based on inquiries about Trio to date, ASIC believes there is insufficient evidence to prove a breach by him of Australian law."
Trio was a Ponzi scheme, a mini-Madoff if you like. Flader's operatives set up a fund, the Astarra Strategic Fund. Astarra would later become Trio.
The money poured in as Morningstar kindly bestowed its four-star product rating, and assorted financial planners dumped their clients' savings into Trio for hefty commissions.
Yet the touted returns were not real they were made up. And as the super flowed into the fund it was siphoned off via Hong Kong to "invest" in hedge funds in the Cayman Islands.
Financial planners, custodians, trustees, lawyers, asset consultants, auditors, regulators they all missed it. And while the regulators dithered, or in APRA's case were missing in action entirely, it should be said there is no way to quarantine entirely against fraudsters and reckless operators.
What could help is reform to the defamation laws. Australian defamation laws are among the most draconian in the world. Powerful vested interests persistently use their lawyers to threaten the mainstream press while bullying and shutting down small website activists trying to have their story heard.
It is no exaggeration to say that the greatest threat to freedom of speech in this country are lawyers.
It is time our defamation laws were brought into step with the rest of the world.