accused of running an alleged Ponzi scheme in Western Australia’s Pilbara region is poised to make a fresh start in business

Davies

A head and shoulder shot of Veronica Macpherson will a Pilbara port in the background.

A woman accused of running an alleged Ponzi scheme in Western Australia’s Pilbara region is poised to make a fresh start in business, vowing she has done nothing wrong.

Key points:

  • Ms Macpherson is banned from providing financial services
  • Investigations into her Macro Group business dealings are continuing
  • She has registered a new company called Karmic Resources

Most of the investors who contributed more than $120 million to Veronica Macpherson’s Macro Group of companies are likely to never see their money again.

Ms Macpherson is preparing to be discharged from her three-year bankruptcy, while investigations by the corporate watchdog into her Macro Group business dealings are continuing.

From a business address at Ephraim Island on the Gold Coast, she has registered a new company called Karmic Resources.

Although she is permanently banned from providing financial services, she is still committed to her plan to develop Pilbara housing, allowing fly-in, fly-out mine workers to shift to the region, via a co-operative company structure.

ASIC ‘took false allegations too seriously’: Macpherson

Ms Macpherson told the ABC Karmic Resources would be an “underwriting entity” for future Macro projects and that establishing wellness, drug rehabilitation and entertainment businesses in the Pilbara were also key priorities.

“It just has to be done because the accommodation there is still scarce and awful,” she said in a statement.

“Particularly now that iron ore prices are high again and people understand the importance of not being socially isolated.”

She said life during the ASIC investigation “has not been pleasant”.

“I feel that ASIC was far too thorough, took false allegations too seriously, and that the media made a mess of things,” she said.

Veronica MacPherson in Newman

Veronica MacPherson in NewmanVeronica Macpherson is still committed to her plan to develop housing in the Pilbara.(Supplied

)

Her Macro Group of companies collapsed in 2016, with creditors owed more than $285 million.

Almost three years ago, liquidator Hayden White of KPMG handed over a detailed report to ASIC which identified many potential breaches of the Corporations Act, including:

  • Trading while insolvent
  • Uncommercial transactions
  • Concealing, destroying, mutilating or falsifying records
  • Failure to keep proper accounting records

An ASIC spokesman said the investigation had involved considerable effort and resources.

But Ms Macpherson has consistently denied the watchdog’s allegation that she was involved with a Ponzi scheme and engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct.

She also rejects any suggestion that she was involved in forgery.

“If anything like this did happen, it wasn’t with my approval and I didn’t stand to benefit in any way,” she said.

About 2,000 investors — mostly from overseas and predominantly from Malaysia and Singapore — contributed about $120 million to Macro Group companies for housing developments in Port Hedland and Newman.

The ABC has heard stories of people forced to sell their family home, retirees having to return to work and people suffering serious mental and physical health problems resulting from the loss of their investment.

But, as a report to creditors by Mr White alleged, Ms Macpherson spent millions of their money on lavish events and jetsetting, including to Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island.

A woman in a pink singlet and sunglasses sits on a thatch-roofed day bed on a beach next to a smiling Richard Branson.

A woman in a pink singlet and sunglasses sits on a thatch-roofed day bed on a beach next to a smiling Richard Branson.Veronica Macpherson with Richard Branson on his Necker Island resort in 2016.(Facebook: Maverick Events

)

In the Federal Court in June 2018, she was banned from providing financial services, with ASIC finding that in her involvement with the Newman Estate project she:

  • Had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct
  • Was not of good fame or character
  • Had engaged in dishonest conduct
  • Was involved in a contravention of financial services laws

Advisory firm sounds warning

Sydney financial advisory firm SR Group is well acquainted with how money flowed through the Macro Group through its work representing 23 investors.

Managing director Susie Barnett said it was important to warn potential investors that Ms Macpherson would soon be back in business.

“You watch, Macpherson will come out of bankruptcy and in a month she will be doing the same thing again,” she said.

The myriad ways in which the Pilbara investment schemes were promoted and structured via more than 78 companies have left behind some clear winners and losers.

Most investors and particularly those from overseas, like Malaysian man CJ Tan, are unlikely to see their money again.

Mr Tan is furious that Ms Macpherson is restarting her career while he and other Malaysian and Singaporean investors have no hope of recovering their money.

“At the least, it is terribly unjust, unfair to us overseas investors who lended to Veronica Macpherson a huge chunk or the majority of her borrowings,” he said.

A head and shoulder shot of CJ Tan

A head and shoulder shot of CJ TanMalaysian investor CJ Tan is unlikely to ever see his money again.(ABC News: James Carmody

)

Yet in a welcome development, some Australian investors have received their money back with interest, via Australian and state government-funded compensation schemes for victims of unlawful business behaviour.

Ian and Wendy Rabone are two of the lucky ones, but it has been a struggle for the couple who live in the coastal town of Ocean Grove, near Geelong.

“When you are in your late 50s and you lose $200,000, it’s not the best of feelings I can tell you,” he said.

Looking to create a retirement income stream, the couple invested in October 2012 after attending three investment seminars Ms MacPherson presented in Victoria the same year.

Ian Rabone and his wife Wendy.

Ian Rabone and his wife Wendy.Ian Rabone and his wife Wendy were investing to create an income stream in retirement.(Supplied

)

A qualified chartered accountant, Mr Rabone said her numbers stacked up and the returns were attractive.

So he invested $199,000 in the Newman Estate development via a company called Anquan Securities and Investment Pty Ltd, which held the Australian Financial services (AFS) licence.

But Anquan’s investment scheme was not registered and marketed as only for sophisticated and wholesale investors, for which he did not qualify.

Mr Rabone alleges that, without his knowledge, he was signed off as a sophisticated investor and that his signature was forged on a title transfer document, an allegation which is being investigated by ASIC.

He lodged a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service Australia (FOS) and was finally able to get his money back with interest last year through a fund set up as a result of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

Compensation not for all

One Perth investor, who did not want to be identified and who has not managed to get his money back, questioned why investors had been so poorly treated, given the findings of the royal commission.

He too invested $199,000 in the Newman Estate to help fund his retirement, but borrowed the money and ended up having to pay it all back, with interest, from his superannuation fund when the scheme collapsed.

His complaint was one of a number that was not passed on to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) when it took over from FOS in 2018, and so was not eligible for compensation.

Compounding the problem, he said, was that Anquan’s indemnity insurance was inadequate.

“The insurance company just walked away from the problem,” he said.

“So, with the stroke of a pen, easy as anything, everyone is home and dry, apart from the investors.”

Further allegations of forged documents

The Rabones have much in common with Ian and Mary Bevan, who live in Landsdale on the north-eastern outskirts of Perth.

Their good fortune has relied on very specific circumstances.

Ian and Mary Bevan sitting at their kitchen table holding a Newman Estate investment brochure

Ian and Mary Bevan sitting at their kitchen table holding a Newman Estate investment brochureIan and Mary Bevan applied for compensation via a WA government fidelity fund.(ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck

)

They also feared they would never see the $199,000 they invested in the Newman Estate again.

And they also allege their signatures were forged on a key document.

The Bevans had also made a complaint to the FOS, which found that they were eligible for compensation.

They chose to apply for compensation via a WA Government fidelity fund, which was established to reimburse people who have lost property or money because of unlawful real estate activity.

Because they had paid their money to Macro Realty, a licensed real estate company, Mr Bevan said they were eligible to claim from the fund.

Ian Bevan looks at documents for the failed Newman Estate

Ian Bevan looks at documents for the failed Newman EstateIan Bevan alleges the couple’s signatures were forged on a key document.(ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck

)

While Mr Bevan was pleased to receive his money back a year ago, he was shocked to hear that Ms Macpherson was preparing to go back into business.

“I certainly won’t be dealing with her again,” he said.

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