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Business insider: Damien Grant’s $1m plus liquidation, Fonterra nabs SFO spindoctor

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Almost 10 years after the scandalous collapse of Albany Heights Villas the liquidation has finally come to an end, but the outcome has been disastrous for most of the 200-odd overseas investors, who were owed more than $21.5 million.

Years of litigation has ultimately resulted in a judicial settlement of $1.2m, according to the final liquidator’s report from Damien Grant of Waterstone and John Gilbert of C&C Strategic.

The Herald understands Wellington law firm Harkness Law (now part of Gibson Sheat) and its principal, John Harkness, had previously reached a confidential settlement over proceedings brought by the liquidators and a Singaporean investor.

The funding creditor, unnamed in the final report, received a distribution of $260,155 after liquidator and legal fees were paid.

Since their appointment by the company’s shareholder (an entity controlled by Christopher Cook) in October 2012 the liquidators have been paid $967,096 in fees. A further $260,935 has been spent on legal fees.

The case goes all the way back to 2010 when overseas investors bought options and first right of refusal contracts on yet-to-be-built townhouses near Albany.

The investment scheme was originally developed by bankrupt developer Rod Nielsen in Las Vegas and used to raise funds for World Capital Partners, a now-defunct entity based in London.

Nielsen or a related company – Rosebud Corporate Trustee – then sold the intellectual property rights to the scheme to former Strategic Finance director Paul Bublitz and Cook, a local property developer.

The pair proceeded to use it for the Albany development and the scheme was marketed in Asia with help from Jordan Belfort, aka the Wolf of Wall Street.

The scheme turned into a disaster in December 2012 when the development was sold to controversial Chinese businessman William Yan, aka Bill Liu, and liquidators were appointed.

Overseas investors were $21.5m out of pocket and while the Serious Fraud Office investigated, the agency decided not to pursue a case.

However, Singapore national Adrian Ng and his wife Alicia Go took a case against Harkness, alleging the firm allowed funds to be transferred from a trust account to the property developers – something the investors claim was contrary to the agreements they signed.

While Albany Heights Villas will shortly be deregistered, sister company Hunter Gills Road remains in liquidation.

A scan through the reports to date reveals a legal settlement of $412,461 was obtained in August 2014. Liquidator fees relating to that company totalled $333,174 as at February 2021.

Fonterra nabs SFO comms man

The voice of the Serious Fraud Office, Henry Acland, has jumped ship from one of New Zealand’s smallest offices to one of its largest. Acland, communications manager at the SFO, finished this week and started a new role as senior communications manager at dairy giant Fonterra in June. The SFO employs around 50 people, while Fonterra has more than 20,000 on its payroll.

Acland had led communications for the SFO since January 2018, with his tenure coinciding with a spate of high-profile prosecutions concerning NZX-listed CBL Insurance and more than a handful of politically sensitive probes into the handling of donations by major political parties.

Cases are afoot in the High Court concerning the finances of New Zealand First – with news of charges being laid coming just before last years’ election, which saw the party fail to secure representation in Parliament – as well as both the National and Labour Parties, and an investigation is ongoing into donations made to the Māori Party is still ongoing.

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