Serepisos may get a fraud windfall

SELLING UP: Bankrupt property developer Terry Serepisos in happier days.
SELLING UP: Bankrupt property developer Terry Serepisos in happier days.

Bankrupted property developer and Wellington Phoenix founder Terry Serepisos may be in line for a $500,000 windfall from the frozen assets of an Indian-born lender suspected of defrauding him.

Before Serepisos was bankrupted in September 2011, he sought to borrow US$100 million (NZ$115m) from Western Gulf Advisory, whose principal was Ahsan Ali Syed. He is believed to have paid out fees of up to US$1.5m to arrange the loan - but the money never turned up.

Now Swiss authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Syed, and his frozen Swiss funds have been made available to certain defrauded clients, who face possible payouts of 30c in the dollar.

If Serepisos is among them, that means he could receive a payout of more than NZ$500,000.

But it is thought likely the cash could slip through his fingers if the liquidators of his property empire, and the Official Assignee, who oversees bankruptcies on behalf of the Government, put in a claim for the refund.

At the time of the proposed loan from WGA, Serepisos hailed it as the salvation of his property empire, and of the Phoenix. He and Syed, who once owned Spanish football club Racing Santander, were planning a partnership deal for the Phoenix, which also came to nothing.

On one occasion in February 2011, Serepisos telephoned Syed in his office so The Dominion Post could interview him. Syed said he admired Serepisos, liked the way he operated, and said his interest in the Phoenix was because he wanted to "help Terry Serepisos".

During this period, Syed travelled in a private airliner with a team of bodyguards. The jet was later seized by creditors.

Syed bought top-flight club Racing Santander in 2011. Within months it had filed for bankruptcy protection and, within two seasons, had dropped to the third division. In January this year, the players refused to play a cup match in protest at not being paid.

Auckland lawyer and private investigator Mark van Leewarden is acting for clients in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Brazil and the United States allegedly duped by Syed. Van Leewarden would not reveal whether Serepisos was one of his clients.

He secured freezing orders over Credit Suisse accounts in Zurich and the Bahamas in April 2011, after concerns over the legitimacy of WGA were made public.

About 20 accounts containing 3.5 million Swiss francs (NZ$4.5m) were subject to the freezing order, as well as an apartment valued at 3m Swiss francs. Those funds have now been made available.

Serepisos admitted in 2011 he had paid upfront fees to WGA, but never confirmed the exact amount. "Once it reached a certain level, and I had done my due diligence on the man, I had to pay a normal fee, just like in a bank."

Documents subsequently seen suggest WGA was asking fees totalling 1.5 per cent of the amount sought, indicating Serepisos may have paid US$1.5m ($1.72m).

That would put him in line to receive a payout of NZ$516,000 if he had signed up with Leewarden.

But he has not yet been discharged as a bankrupt - that is set to happen in October - so it is unclear whether he would end up with any refund.

Liquidator John Fisk, of PricewaterhouseCoopers, who is overseeing the majority of Serepisos' failed companies, said he was making inquiries as to which Serepisos entity made payments to WGA, to determine who would be entitled to any refund.

Serepisos could not be contacted for comment.

The Dominion Post