Poland just one of many stops in trek down the Port Hinchinbrook project sale trail
‘I do not live there, it is one of several properties that I have an interest in.’ PAUL GARDAS OAKLAND INVESTMENT GROUP
It doesn’t look much like the home of a globe-spanning property financier who does multimilliondollar deals.
But according to documents obtained by The Weekend Australian, the humble concrete block building, which sits down a modest street in the outer suburbs of a regional city in Poland, is exactly that.
It’s the registered address of Paul (or Pawel) Gardas, the director of British Virgin Islands company Oakland Investment Group.
The Weekend Australian made contact with Mr Gardas this week and he explained the apparent incongruity — and some of the mysteries surrounding his prop- erty finance activities on the other side of the world.
Oakland is at the centre of a stoush over control of the failed Port Hinchinbrook development, in Cardwell, far north Queensland, linked to a man permanently banned from corporate life, double bankrupt Craig Gore.
The company has taken physical possession of the troubled project, citing a mortgage over the land granted to it by failed developer The Passage Holdings.
This mortgage in turn relies upon a deal supposedly signed on September 23 last year, when the land was sold to Passage by Williams Corporation.
According to the deed, the validity of which is under investigation by Passage liquidator Michael Brennan, Singapore resident and Canadian citizen Perry Cooper was to be compensated to the tune of $6.8 million for “financial accommodation, management services and other goods and services” provided to Passage.
But none of these millions were to come from Passage. Instead, Oakland agreed to pay $4.15m on behalf of Passage and the other $2.65m was to come from the FNQ Trust, which some say ultimately benefits Mr Gore’s wife, Marina.
Mr Cooper has told The Weekend Australian he never received anything from the FNQ Trust, but he and Mr Gardas both say Oakland paid its share in cash.
Mr Gardas, by email, said that any suggestion that the mortgage had not been issued in good faith was “simply false”.
Oakland’s mortgage is controversial because it ranks ahead of another granted to a group of US investors who wired $2.8m to lawyers for Williams Corporation liquidator Joanne Dunn, of FTI, to pay for the land. Complicating matters further, Ms Dunn herself is first in line when it comes to security over the development — her mortgage gives her a call on the property to protect her from having to stump up more than $2m in council rates and land taxes that haven’t been collected since 2010. Passage agreed to take on these liabilities as part of the package but hasn’t paid them.
“This was, quite simply, an investment made by me through my company,” Mr Gardas said. “It turned out to not be a very good one and I am trying to mitigate any losses I might suffer because of it.”
Those involved in property deals involving one of Mr Gardas’s companies have marvelled at his ability to make quick decisions, often conveyed through local lawyer Daniel Clarke of Sydney law firm Clamenz — who, as The Weekend Australian revealed last week, played a key role in the Hinchinbrook deal.
They wonder if there’s some link between Mr Gardas and another Clamenz client, Mr Gore.
In May, Mr Clarke’s law firm partner, Dev Menon, was arrested on charges related to the alleged $165m Plutus payroll tax scam.
Mr Gardas is adamant that he has never met Mr Gore, let alone done business with him.
“Just for the avoidance of doubt, I have no investors in any of my companies who are Australian residents and neither Mr Clarke, Mr Menon nor Mr Gore (or any of their families) have ever invested in my companies,” he said. He said he was the sole owner and director of Oakland, as well as other BVI companies including Corvus Investments and Octal, which he runs from a network of serviced offices in London, Paris and Singapore.
The office in the United Arab Emirates, where Mr Gardas is a resident, is the only one with fixed staff.
And the quick calls on milliondollar-plus deals?
“I do own a telephone, which I am generally available on 24x7 and have a competent staff and advisers,” he said.
That just leaves that modest Polish house. “No, I do not live there, however it is one of several properties that I have an interest in, and I haven’t stayed there for many years,” he said.
“I also maintain a residence in Paris that I visit from time to time.”
Work in progress: the humble Polish house