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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5933


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (21:30): I rise tonight on behalf of many of my constituents in Dawson who have fallen victim to what could be one of the greatest financial scams in this country in our time. I represent my constituents in this matter, but I acknowledge the thousands of others in electorates around Australia who are also suffering. There are almost 10,000 individuals who invested their hard earned money in what appeared to be a sound investment—Prime Retirement and Aged Care Property Trust—but they were duped by smoke and mirrors. It seems Prime Trust wrote up the value of properties and distributed the capital gain to make it look like a profit. This is contrary to the entity's accounting policy of not distributing unrealised capital gain.

My constituents want to know how Prime Trust's constitution was changed to insert listing fees without consultation with unit holders. They want to know why almost $33million was removed from the trust as a fee for listing on the stock exchange. They want to know why the owner of the responsible entity at the time, Mr Bill Lewski, received the benefit of that constitutional change. They want to know how the management rights to all the property under the control of Prime Retirement and Aged Care Property Trust came to be acquired by the same Bill Lewski. If they were sold, it did not show up in the income statement of the trust. If there was any transaction at all, it must have been small enough to be hidden under other income. My constituents want to know how those same management rights were then sold two months later to Babcock and Brown Communities for $60 million. Somehow the management rights to all these properties went from being worth peanuts or nothing to being worth $60 million in the space of two months.

My constituents believe the answer lies somewhere in between those two transactions, and in the middle we find Bill Lewski. Lewski is in the middle of all these questions in fact. I have done some research on this grub, Lewski, and it makes for some very interesting reading. In the early 2000s, Lewski operated and promoted an unregistered managed investment scheme, which was later shut down by ASIC. The former chairman, Cedric Richard Palmer Beck, was a director of Westpoint Group, through which investors were defrauded of $300 million. Lewski's one-time business partner, Max Green, managed to scam $42 million out of innocent Australians before he wound up dead in a hotel room in Cambodia. These are the sharks that Lewski swam with, but they were associations unknown to Prime Trust investors.

My constituents invested in Prime Trust for their own retirement and some were dependent on the income from this investment. Now they are watching their life savings drain away and no-one seems willing to stop it. More than 750 investors have formed the Prime Trust Action Group to launch a class action, hoping a court will award them the listing fee with interest of about $50 million, in addition to the $200 million in lost property value as a result of the management rights sale and $100 million in deferred management fees that seem to have just disappeared. That is a lot of money to be chasing, but it seems no-one has the money to chase it because these victims have lost their money. They are desperately trying to get a litigation funding company to start proceedings, but the problem is that the longer it takes, the less money there will be. Lewski and all the other crooks behind this swindle cannot be allowed to run off with the proceeds of their fraud.

I, and many other members of this parliament, have written to the Assistant Treasurer, requesting he ensure that ASIC takes this matter seriously. To date I have had no response to my correspondence to the Assistant Treasurer. On behalf of those MPs and the constituents they represent, and on behalf of the victims in my electorate of Dawson, I implore the government in the strongest terms possible to do whatever it takes to have these questions answered. I implore ASIC to do whatever it takes. The victims took this matter to ASIC and ASIC sat on their hands for 10 months before they even looked at it. The government needs to make ASIC aware of the extent of this problem. If ASIC cannot bring these people and this trust to account then what is the point of ASIC? Investigate this matter. Investigate these people. Answer these questions. If money is found to have been stolen then start the process to return that money while there is still some money to return, for the sake of all the investors.