Lomu rumbled 'fraud' bid

JONAH LOMU: The former All Black is angry his name has been tarnished by a man on trial for fraud.
JONAH LOMU: The former All Black is angry his name has been tarnished by a man on trial for fraud.

Rugby legend Jonah Lomu has told the Auckland District Court of how a meeting at Wellington's Hummingbird bar led to an apparent $18 million job offer but ended in bitterness.

Lomu testified late yesterday in the trial of Loizos Michaels, who has pleaded not guilty to 31 counts of fraud.

He outlined how a promising business relationship stuttered during meetings at Michaels' Greek restaurant on Auckland's Ponsonby Road.

"When I kept seeing all these people walking in and out, being disgusted in terms of they've never been paid, they haven't been delivered whatever it was, then I sort of knew 'Ok, something's up here'," Lomu said of regular visitors to Michaels at Platos Greek Taverna.

The court has heard from numerous witnesses who advanced more than $3m in cash to Michaels' schemes that has never been returned. Several have told of being summoned to meetings at Platos where they were introduced to Lomu, the scorer of 37 tries for the All Blacks.

In her opening address Crown prosecutor Christine Gordon, SC, said Michaels spun a "web of deceit," ensnaring people in his schemes to both obtain cash and bolster his own credibility.

Lomu said he first met Michaels at Hummingbird in 2008 where the prospect of a global kickboxing series, the KO World Series, was mooted.

"He wanted to grow KO and make it into the biggest new thing," Lomu said of the plans.

The talk turned more serious at a later meeting at a cafe on Kent Terrace, where Lomu said his role as frontman for the enterprise was discussed with Michaels and a friend. "There was the three of us sitting in there and talking about it and that's when he dropped what he was wanting to pay," Lomu said.

"It was US$15 million (NZ$18.5m) in total in terms of pure exclusive rights to using me, imagery, name, everything."

Lomu said he later signed a contract presented by one of Michaels' associates where this payment was codified and the counterparty was listed as "Ho Corporation".

The court has heard from other victims of Michaels who said the alleged conman presented himself as a "corporate raider" for the Macau-based Ho family who were claimed to be interested in taking over Sky City Entertainment Group.

Evidence was read in from Lawrence Ho, the scion of the billionaire casino family, saying Michaels' claimed links to the Ho family and Melco were nonexistent.

Lomu said he was sceptical of the "Ho Corporation," but continued to meet with Michaels regularly at Platos until his name was used as part of a purported property sale he refused to be involved with.

Janet Jackson, the co-owner of the Sacred Waters Apartments in Taupo, earlier told the court of how Michaels regularly stayed at the five-star accommodation, sometimes accompanied by Lomu.

Jackson said Michaels, who she knew as Michael Callis,  wore Rolex watches and drove a late model BMW 7 Series. "He was very well dressed, impeccably dressed. Top of the range everything: clothes, watch, vehicle. Very - for the want of a better word - wealthy looking," she said.

Jackson said Michaels had entered into negotiations to purchase the Sacred Waters Properties, but he insisted on more than $360,000 in advance payments ostensibly to act as security to ensure the sale went through.

Jackson said Michaels signed the sale and purchase agreement using Lomu's name, and claimed the rugby star was acting as his nominee.

Lomu said he was presented with the sale and purchase agreement at Platos, but refused to take it. "So I gave him back the contract itself and I walked - after that I haven't seen him since, until today," he said.

Lomu said he was angry at his name being misused by Michaels to bolster his schemes.

"I spent my whole life building my reputation and my name, and for someone to walk into my life and try and do that? Hell no," he said.

"It's something that I've lived by and cherished and I've given and sweated blood for it and to have him come and try and tarnish my name? Please, I'll never, never let anybody do that to me."

The trial continues, with National Party President Peter Goodfellow - whose hiring of private detectives first uncovered concerns about Michaels - due to testify tomorrow.