What was initially reported as a $297 million fraud allegedly perpetrated by Bill Papas through his company Forum Finance, is now believed to be inflated to $500 million.
A joint media investigation by newspapers age and Sydney Morning Herald published on Sunday February 6 morning and the current affairs program of the 9th channel 60 minuteswhich aired last night focused largely on the case.
After being contacted by the media, Mr. Papas issued a rare statement saying, “The reports and opinions publicly advanced about Forum and other entities were made without the benefit of an adversary. This is because I have been denied the opportunity to fund any meaningful involvement in federal proceedings initiated by a financial institution with sufficient resources. I intend to address the issues raised at the appropriate time, but for now my main focus is my health.
Media inquiries allege that Mr Papas lives a luxurious life in Greece, where he fled in June last year, six days after Westpac contacted him about contractual anomalies which had been noted by the CFO of client company WestTrac last June. year.
Papas reportedly told WestTrac there had been a misunderstanding and he was on his way to Perth to explain the anomalies to the company on June 15. Instead, he flew to Greece where he has remained ever since.
Last July, civil lawsuits were filed against Mr. Papas in federal court by Westpac, along with Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and France’s Société Générale.
The discrepancies noted by WestTrac’s CFO were a series of loans made in the heavy equipment contractor’s name that were signed by the company’s CEO. However, the signature was not that of the CEO, nor had he seen the documents that included the fake signature. The numbers also did not match the company.
When Westpac realized there was a problem, its magnitude began to escalate, with other bank customers reporting similar problems with loan documents they had not seen and fraudulently signed in their name. Clients included established companies such as Coles, Australian Liquor and Hospitality Group, Scentre, owner of Westfield Shopping Centres, as well as small businesses, such as Quantum Solutions which turned to Forum in 2016 to develop software to streamline trucking activity. Company CEO Deb Roberts lost $180,000 and the company’s creditworthiness was damaged by the experience.
Papas allegedly delayed detection by ensuring that Forum Finance made all ‘loan’ payments on time, so that neither the client nor the bank had reason to question the ‘loan’.
The media investigation alleged that hundreds of signatures had been forged by Mr Papas. Jason Ireland of McGrathNicol Liquidators (which is looking to recover the missing millions), said what started out as loans worth hundreds of thousands of dollars has gradually grown into millions of dollars per loan contract.
He said the liquidator’s investigators reviewed five million pieces of evidence, including emails and messaging apps. Their investigation looked at 150 bank accounts and 110,000 transactions and Mr Ireland said it became very clear where the money had gone.
He alleged that much, in the hundreds of millions, of the defrauded funds was used to pay for the running costs of Forum Finance (set up by Mr Papas in 2011) which included a commercial machine rental empire and Iugis, a food waste management company. system used in the hospitality industry.
The liquidator estimated that $50 million would have been spent on the purchase of properties. Millions also went to pay for a lavish lifestyle that included expensive cars, yachts, jet skis and the trailers to transport them.
He said there was a real chance there was a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars to recover and that amount might not even be in Australia.
Mr Ireland said Mr Papas dreamed of being a ‘big businessman’ and was to promote Iugis through a sponsorship deal with English Premier League club Liverpool FC in a bid to give the company international recognition.
Without the fraudulent loans, Mr Ireland said the business was completely insolvent – when the alleged fraud was discovered, the business collapsed.
Investigations showed that tens of millions of money allegedly went to a number of entities in Greece.
In 2020, Mr Papas paid $15 million to become the owner of Xanthi FC. Back then, he appointed Tony Popovic as coach and said the club would be a launching pad for Socceroos in Europe. He resigned as chairman of Sydney Olympic shortly after allegations against him surfaced.
Australian Federal Court Judge Michael Lee froze Mr Papas’ assets in Australia. McGrathNicol has sold a home in Rozelle owned by Mr Papas and his business partner Vince Tesoriero and is selling his over $12 million waterfront home on the Central Coast to recoup some of the funds.
While Mr Papas claimed in Federal Court affidavits that he had money to pay for a ticket to Australia, media on Sunday alleged that Mr Papas was living in a luxurious apartment he owned in Thessaloniki and often traveled to Athens where he stayed in expensive apartments. hotels and was regularly seen shopping in high-end boutiques in exclusive areas of the Greek capital.
Sydney Morning Herald Business journalist Sarah Danckert said that if there was an extradition treaty with Greece, Mr Papas was charged with fraud by an Australian bank in a civil case and not by the police in a criminal case, which would make his more certain extradition. The fact that the Federal Court issued a warrant for contempt of court meant that Mr. Papas could defend this charge from Greece.
She said, however, that New South Wales Police were investigating Mr Papas for fraud but could not comment on the progress of their investigation.