Poland just one of many stops in trek down the Port Hinch­in­brook project sale trail

The Weekend Australian - - BUSINESS - BEN BUT­LER IN­VEST­MENT

‘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

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