NO SPIRIT

EX­CLU­SIVE Ripped-off Nant in­vestors say cops have put in­ves­ti­ga­tion on ice

Mercury (Hobart) - - FRONT PAGE - CHANEL KINNIBURGH

TAS­MA­NIA Po­lice is yet to hire a foren­sic ac­coun­tant or speak with the man be­hind the failed Nant whisky bar­rel buy­back scheme — prompt­ing ac­cu­sa­tions from ripped-off in­vestors that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is not be­ing taken se­ri­ously.

Po­lice vowed in Au­gust last year to look at sev­eral com­plaints of a “fraud­u­lent na­ture” made by Nant in­vestors. But cred­i­tors say they are yet to re­ceive any up­dates, with more than 15 in­vestors con­tact­ing the Mer­cury this week to ex­press their frus­tra­tions.

One of those, Kai How­ells, said: “The in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been half-ar­sed and hasn’t been prop­erly re­sourced.

“They con­tacted me ask­ing for some doc­u­men­ta­tion but I’ve never heard from them again. It’s thrown in the too-hard bas­ket.”

Se­ri­ous Or­gan­ised Crime Unit De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Glen Ball said the case was pro­gress­ing but was still ex­pected to take “some months”. been FULL RE­PORT PAGES 4-5

IN­VESTORS ripped off in the Nant whisky bar­rel buy­back scheme be­lieve Tas­ma­nia Po­lice has put the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the “too hard bas­ket”, de­spite putting six de­tec­tives on the case.

The Mer­cury un­der­stands Tas­ma­nia Po­lice is yet to hire a foren­sic ac­coun­tant or speak with the man be­hind the scheme — bank­rupt Bris­bane prop­erty devel­oper Keith Batt — be­cause of a lack of fund­ing.

Po­lice an­nounced that they would look at sev­eral com­plaints of a “fraud­u­lent na­ture” made by Nant in­vestors in Au­gust last year. But cred­i­tors say they are yet to re­ceive any up­dates, with more than 15 in­vestors con­tact­ing the Mer­cury in the past five days to ex­press their frus­tra­tions.

Kai How­ells, of Mel­bourne, said he be­lieved Mr Batt had pock­eted up to $20 mil­lion of in­vestors’ money.

“The Tas­ma­nia Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been half-ar­sed and hasn’t been prop­erly re­sourced,” he said.

“They con­tacted me ask­ing for some doc­u­men­ta­tion but I’ve never heard from them again. It’s been thrown in the too hard bas­ket, but he should be held to ac­count and see his day in court.”

Bris­bane mother-of-two Marcia Fryk, who lost $30,000 on her Nant in­vest­ment, also said it ap­peared Mr Batt had got off scot-free.

“Again the lit­tle peo­ple lose out and the big busi­ness peo­ple can do what they like with­out any fear of reprisal or pun­ish­ment,” she said.

Se­ri­ous Or­gan­ised Crime Unit De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Glen Ball said the case — be­lieved to be the big­gest fraud/theft ever in­ves­ti­gated by Tas­ma­nia Po­lice — was pro­gress­ing but was still ex­pected to take “some months” to com­plete.

“Due to the com­plex na­ture of the case, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion team has been in­creased to a to­tal of six de­tec­tives,” he said.

“The team has con­tacted a num­ber of po­ten­tially af­fected par­ties — in Tas­ma­nia, in­ter­state and over­seas — as part of the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“As the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing, it’s not ap­pro­pri­ate to com­ment fur­ther.”

About 900 in­vestors are be­lieved to have pur­chased bar­rels of whisky for up to $15,000 each af­ter pro­duc­tion be­gan at the Nant dis­tillery in Both­well in 2008.

Nant sold bar­rels un­der 13 dif­fer­ent in­vest­ment schemes, promis­ing to buy the bar­rels back in four years for a 9.55 per cent per an­num com­pound re­turn. But pay­day never ar­rived for many in­vestors and sus­pi­cions started to grow.

Nant was sold to Aus­tralian Whisky Hold­ings in Fe­bru­ary 2017 and the new owner quickly dis­cov­ered what in­vestors had feared, with an au­dit re­veal­ing that more than 1330 bar­rels did not ex­ist.

The au­dit also found that there was a large quan­tity of bar­rels which had been de­canted, bot­tled and sold, but the bar­rel in­vestors had not been told or paid.

Craft Works Whisky Com­pany owner Craig Field bought two bar­rels as part of his new busi­ness in 2015, ar­rang­ing with Nant to bot­tle the whisky in­de­pen­dently once ma­tured.

He was ini­tially Tt Ap told by AWH that his bar­rels were tt filled but a fur­ther au­dit dis­cov­ered that was not the case.

“Find­ing out my bar­rels never ex­isted was soul de­stroy­ing,” he said.

“This is a $20 mil­lion whitecol­lar crime fraud and there doesn’t seem to be any ur­gency at all by Tas­ma­nia Po­lice. [Mr Batt] has ... just got away with it.

“The Aus­tralia craft spir­its in­dus­try is grow­ing at a phe­nom­e­nal rate and these sorts of sit­u­a­tions are a blight on the in­dus­try and they need to be ad­dressed.”

Mal­colm Brown, from the state’s North-West, had only four of his nine bar­rels filled. He said the stress caused to him and his fam­ily could “never have a dollar value put against it”.

“We are hard­work­ing peo­ple with a young fam­ily and it has not been easy on our back pocket or our life and we will not even get half of our in­vest­ment back,” he said.

“The frus­tra­tion that it causes through lack of an­swers makes me sick in the stom­ach.” chanel.kinniburgh@news.com.au

Find­ing F out m my bar­rels never ex­isted was soul de­stroy­ing In­vestor CRAIG FIELD

that The T frus­tra­tion it causes t through lack of an­swers makes me sick in the stom­ach In­vestor MAL­COLM BROWN

p peo­ple Again A the lose lit­tle out and the big busi­ness peo­ple can do what they like In­vestor MARCIA FRYK

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